Bernie Sanders faces aggressive opposition from centrist Democrats who view him as an 'existential threat'

Bernie Sanders faces aggressive opposition from centrist Democrats who view him as an 'existential threat'
Royalty-free stock photo ID: 634157375 Topeka Kansas, February 25Th, 2017 Democratic Senator and past presidential candidate Bernie Sanders delivers the keynote speech at the Kansas State Democratic convention

While former Vice President Joe Biden remains the frontrunner in many polls on the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont can often be found in second place — and the Vermont senator and self-described “democratic socialist” raised an impressive $18 million during the first quarter of his campaign. If Sanders were to win the Democratic nomination and defeat President Donald Trump in the general election, he would be the most liberal/progressive president the U.S. has had since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. But some centrist Democrats fear that Sanders is unelectable, as a new report in the Guardian details with a review of the “anyone-but-Bernie” movement.


The Guardian’s Lauren Gambino reports that on June 18, the centrist think tank Third Way held an event in South Carolina — where about 250 people were in attendance and Third Way members expressed fears that Sanders would win the primary but lose to Trump in the general election.

Jon Cowan, president of Third Way, told the crowd, “I believe a gay midwestern mayor can beat Trump. I believe an African-American senator can beat Trump. I believe a western governor, a female senator, a member of Congress, a Latino Texan or a former vice-president can beat Trump. But I don’t believe a self-described democratic socialist can win.”

Cowan, in an interview with the Guardian, expressed his worries about Sanders’ influence on the Democratic Party, asserting, “He has made it his mission to either get the nomination or to remake the party in his image as a democratic socialist. That is an existential threat to the future of the Democratic Party for the next generation.”

Sanders was quick to respond to the June 18 event. The following day on Twitter, he denounced the anyone-but-Bernie movement as the work of “the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.”

The anyone-but-Bernie movement raises an interesting question: what about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate who shares many of Sanders’ liberal/progressive views and has been surging in recent polls? Why would Third Way be so hostile to Sanders but not to Warren? Arguably, it comes down to messaging.

Warren, unlike Sanders, has rejected the term “democratic socialist.” The Massachusetts senator has declared that she favors “markets” and is a “capitalist to my bones”; Warren has positioned herself as a blistering critic of crony capitalism but not of capitalism itself. If anything, Warren is — not unlike President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s — promoting herself as a savior of capitalism, not an opponent.

On Twitter, Sanders shared a June 19 Politico report on Warren’s relationship with Third Way, which was highly critical of her in the past but in 2019, likes the fact that she stresses her capitalist credentials. At the Third Way event in South Carolina, Matt Bennett (the group’s co-founder) compared Sanders and Warren and stressed, “One is a Democratic capitalist narrative. The other is a socialist narrative.”

Truth be told, Sanders is really a capitalist — and the “socialism” that he favors draws its inspiration from FDR’s New Deal, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and the modern-day governments of Sweden, Denmark and Norway rather than Che Guevara or Mao Tse Tung. But in a soundbite culture like the United States, some people can’t get past the fact that Sanders is using the word “socialist” at all. And Trump is certainly using the word to bash Democrats and terrorize voters, claiming that only Republicans can save the U.S. from the type of severe economic problems Venezuela has been suffering under President Nicolas Maduro.

Despite all the Sanders-bashing at the South Carolina event, Cowan also warned the crowd against Democrats promoting a message of “warmed-over 1990s centrism” —declaring, “Voters do not want mushy, bland, empty Democratic centrism.”

Whether the Democratic Party will ultimately nominate Biden or another centrist for the 2020 election or go with someone more liberal/progressive remains to be seen. Sanders might win the nomination regardless of what Third Way thinks. But as the primary moves along, the anyone-but-Bernie voices in the Democratic Party will be no doubt be railing against him — and urging fellow Democrats to please refrain from calling themselves “socialists.”

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