Republicans boost Sanders in bid to revive discontent from 2016

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent

President Trump and one of his top allies in Congress both have taken a particular interest in the political fortunes of a self-declared socialist in recent days.

Trump defended Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday evening from accusations that he said a woman could not win the presidency.

“I don’t believe that Bernie said that. I really don’t. It’s not the kind of a thing he would say,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Milwaukee, after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sanders’s rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, accused him of making those remarks.

During Tuesday’s night presidential debate, Sanders denied making the comment.

Trump isn’t alone in his defense of Sanders. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., expressed concern over the fact that Sanders, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, will have to stay in Washington over the next few weeks for the Senate impeachment trial.

McCarthy speculated on “Fox News Sunday” that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had delayed the impeachment trial explicitly to harm Sanders’s chances of winning the nomination.

Kevin McCarthy, left, and Bernie Sanders
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Bernie Sanders. (Photos: Jose Luis Magana/AP, Andrew Harnik/AP)

“This is the dirty little secret that nobody is talking about, why the speaker held these papers,” McCarthy told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo. “The only reason why she’s doing this that no one's talking about is harming Bernie Sanders.”

McCarthy also referenced the 2016 Democratic primary, which many Sanders supporters saw as having been structured in order to benefit establishment favorite — and eventual nominee — Hillary Clinton.

“Remember what happened in the last nomination process, where the DNC chairman ... had to resign the night before the nomination convention started because they found out they had cheated Sen. Bernie Sanders from the opportunity to become the nominee,” McCarthy said. “They are doing the exact same thing right now.”

Of course, McCarthy’s interest in mentioning the internecine Democratic row would be to stir up dissension on the left to Trump’s political benefit.

In 2016, Sanders supporters were outraged by the revelation that DNC officials, including chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., had worked behind the scenes to help Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, and to hurt Sanders’s. This information came to light when Russian military intelligence hacked the DNC emails and then laundered them into the U.S. news cycle through WikiLeaks.

Clinton’s campaign argued that she would have won the nomination with or without behind-the-scenes support from top DNC officials, but the damage to her candidacy was done.

The bad blood extended into the convention, when Sanders supporters made numerous displays of discontent with Clinton’s nomination. And discontent with Clinton was a big reason (combined with unhappiness with Trump as well) why the Libertarian and Green Party candidates received historically high support: almost 6 million votes combined. That was up from a combined 1.7 million between those two party candidates in 2012.

It’s in the interests of McCarthy’s Republican Party to foment anger among Sanders’s supporters toward the Democratic Party establishment. And Trump’s defense of Sanders plays into that strategy as well.

Most Republicans also think Trump would easily defeat Sanders if the Vermont Democrat, who describes himself as a democratic socialist and has registered as an independent for much of his career, was the Democratic nominee.

After Trump took Sanders’s side in the spat with Warren, he told the crowd at his rally that he didn’t personally like Sanders, and found him to be a “nasty guy.”

But it wasn’t the only time he’s sought to boost Sanders in the belief that he will fare well in a one-on-one with Sanders in the fall election.

“Wow! Crazy Bernie Sanders is surging in the polls, looking very good against his opponents in the Do Nothing Party,” Trump tweeted Sunday after a Des Moines Register poll showed Sanders leading in the state. “So what does this all mean? Stay tuned!”

“It means you’re going to lose,” Sanders tweeted in response.

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