Bernie Sanders' newest fan is probably the last person you'd expect it to be

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Mr Sanders leads the polls in Iowa, where the first vote of the primaries will take place on 3 February: Reuters
Mr Sanders leads the polls in Iowa, where the first vote of the primaries will take place on 3 February: Reuters

The 'Bernie Blackout' is over.

Bernie Sanders, long overlooked in the Democratic race, is having a moment. In the polls, in the fundraising race and in high-profile spats with his 2020 rivals.

But one booster seems more surprising than most – Donald J Trump.

Lately Trump has tweeted about Sanders in ways that are sympathetic, if not totally supportive, of the Vermont senator.

"Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party" Trump wrote on 12 January.

A day later in a rally in Milwaukee the president weighed in on a testy row between Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. He was quick to side with Bernie.

"[Ms Warren] said that Bernie said a woman can't win. I don't believe that Bernie said that," Mr Trump said. "I really don't. It's not the kind of a thing he'd say."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren embrace after the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre on July 30 2019 in Detroit Michigan (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren embrace after the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre on July 30 2019 in Detroit Michigan (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

But why is Trump suddenly so concerned about fairness? Does The President actually want Bernie on the rival ticket or is he trying to undermine the Sanders campaign with all this flattery?

After all, the polls may say Sanders would be the only candidate to beat Trump in a general election but the president's desire to railroad Joe Biden's campaign is now so well-known it got him impeached.

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Indeed, Trump's fandom reached fever pitch when Hillary Clinton trashed Sanders in a stinging personal attack. Trump seemed personally affronted.

"When Hillary says nobody likes him, nobody likes her. That's why she lost.," Mr Trump said during an interview with Fox Business.

He later tweeted: "They are rigging the election again against Bernie Sanders, just like last time, only even more obviously. Very unfair, but that's the way the Democrats play the game."

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Nomiki Konst, a political activist who worked as a national surrogate for Sanders in 2016, insists Trump is playing nice because he is running scared of Sanders' online support and he doesn't want Sanders to win.

"I think that – in private – Trump is scared of Bernie Sanders, partly because Sanders beats Trump in the polls," Konst said. "What Donald Trump isn't used to is Sanders' supporters and the real grass roots movement Bernie has. If Donald Trump signals he's ready to fight with Bernie Sanders, then the movement is going to start targeting Donald Trump. I think it's in Donald Trump's best interest to not pick fights with potentially the strongest democratic nominee in Sanders."

Others believe Trump's ploy is to use Bernie to further divide the indecisive Democratic Party

"I don't think it is meant to elevate Sanders," Josh Putnam, the political scientist behind DC company Frontloading HQ says.

"Instead, I think it is more likely that the president is attempting again to sow discord within the Democratic Party primary electorate, as well as the larger Democratic general election electorate.

"It is debatable just how effectively that sort of manoeuvering worked in 2016, but what's true is that Trump attempted to intervene and comment on the legitimacy of the 2016 Democratic nomination process and appears to be returning to that script for 2020."

Regardless of whether Mr Trump is trying to give an edge to Mr Sanders, one of his rivals, or simply trying to sow discord, Konst is sceptical of the president's influence over undecided Democratic primary voters.

"I don't know if Trump influences Democratic voters on the fence. I think people making decisions at this point are trying to decide which candidates are going to make their lives better. Most voters think 'who do I believe in, who do I think can beat this man, who do I think can transform this country for the better?'" Konst said.

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