Tuesday night’s victory in New Hampshire gives Sen. Bernie Sanders unequivocal frontrunner status, and anyone trying to couch his win as less than significant is trying to sell you something likely named Buttigieg, Klobuchar or Bloomberg. This will terrify the members of the anti-Sanders wing of the Democratic Party — and they are plentiful — who’ve been warning that Sanders can’t win, and more importantly that he shouldn’t.
While Sanders is all the rage among youngsters, oldsters of a certain variety — typically male, white and clinging to a version of the party last spotted glad-handing with Republicans over White Russians at the Round Robin bar in 1987 — are downright horrified at the prospect of a socialist on the ticket.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was recently overheard — because he was mic’d and on television — ranting like a McCarthyite about a return to the bad old days...that never actually came to be.
“I remember the Cold War,” he boomed. “I have an attitude toward [Fidel] Castro. I believe if Castro and the Reds had won the Cold War there would have been executions in Central Park, and I might have been one of the ones executed, and certain other people would be there cheering, OK?” Likewise, famed Democratic political guru James Carville had a nervous breakdown on live television the other night, promising that a Sanders nomination would mean nothing less than the “end of days” for the party.
While far less eschatological and emotional, there’s another, slightly younger, cohort of white men who are just as concerned about Sanders — and they happen to be in the House of Representatives.
Democratic Reps. Anthony Brindisi, Dean Phillips, Scott Peters and Max Rose — whose average age is 46.5 — all went on record to convey how worried they are about Bernie’s taint on the party.
“Sanders is about the worst candidate we can put up,” Peters told The Hill. “He not only won’t likely win the presidency; he puts the House majority at risk.”
There’s an eerie familiarity to the desperation of these dudes not to see their party co-opted by a guy whose ideas they find anathema, even dangerous.
He’s too extreme. He can’t win. He’ll hurt the party down-ballot. He won’t be able to get his agenda passed. I feel your pain, Never-Sanders — and once said similar things about Donald Trump in 2016.
For months our maudlin club of #NeverTrump doomsayers spent days and nights publicly panicking and desperately pleading with anyone who would listen about the dangers of nominating Trump. Nervous breakdowns were the norm, lighting our hair on fire a nightly ritual.
Suffice it to say, we lost the argument, and on one fine point we were dead wrong: He got himself elected.
Here’s the thing, though: We were also mostly right. Trump is too extreme to ever be palatable to more than a minority of voters. He barely eked out a win against Hillary Clinton, a badly damaged candidate herself. His rhetoric and policies resulted in Democrats taking back the House in 2018. And much of his agenda, including a highly touted border wall, has not been passed, despite having a total congressional majority for two years.
It’s worth noting, he has also just been impeached, not exactly a ringing endorsement for his enduring legacy, or the party’s.
We were also right about his taint on the party. Republicans in Congress, almost to a person, have fallen in line to normalize truly bad ideas, and to justify his every irrational, immoral, incompetent, embarrassing impulse, and with an alacrity that won’t scrub off anytime soon.
Now, if you’re thinking, Sanders isn’t Trump and Democrats aren’t Republicans, well...yes and no. True, Sanders won’t likely bring the flagrant personal, financial and ethical problems Trump has. Who but Caligula could?
But you’d be surprised how quickly the allure of absolute power corrupts absolutely; how rapidly a party can morph into whatever the loudest, most manipulative voices are demanding; how unrecognizable the people you thought you knew can become.
And this is why Carville is warning that the Democratic Party will turn into a cult under Sanders. It sounds crazy and paranoid, but it isn’t.
Never-Sanders folks are right to be concerned about a Bernie candidacy: the effects down-ballot, the normalizing of bad policies, the radical transformation of the party. But they should not underestimate his electability. He can go all the way. I’ve seen it happen.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.