Chris Matthews: Would the Democratic establishment prefer to see Bernie lose to Trump?

A leftover from Saturday. Bernie fans are torching him for this because he is, after all, very, very, very anti-Bernie. Coming from him, this is no idle observation about whether the long-term interests of Democratic leaders align with Bernie’s interests. This is a nudge to some of those leaders to start thinking about whether they should align.

But even so, it’s a fair question. If you’re a traditional liberal who’s comfortable with Obama’s ideology and uncomfortable with Sanders’s, what’s better for you in 2020? A Bernie victory that proves socialism is the way Democrats win national elections or a Bernie loss that proves socialism can’t win? Either outcome will define voters’ calculus for a generation. If he wins, AOC and the Squad as next-gen national leaders is a much more real prospect than if he loses. Progressives won’t be able to claim either that they had an “imperfect vessel” as nominee or whatever if their man falters. Sanders is the gold standard, the most famous socialist in America, the candidate whose galvanizing powers are such that he’s supposedly going to expand the electorate this fall by turning out millions of young adults who were otherwise disaffected by American politics. If they crap the bed with him and generate a second term for a Republican whom Democrats despise, centrists in their party will flog them for it for decades. It’ll be post-McGovern recriminations all over again, only more so.

And even if he wins it’ll come at a cost. Matthews could have pointed to Trump’s effect on the initially reluctant, now fully domesticated Republican establishment over the past three years. There are nice things about electing a populist cult leader from your party president, starting with filling judicial vacancies, but the price is the gradual zombification of the congressional caucus as the cult demands obedience to its visionary leader. If Bernie wins, purple-district Democrats in the House will soon be stammering, “T-t-t-true socialism has never been tried,” assuming there are any purple-district Democrats left next year. Are party leaders ready for that? Matthews:

“I’m wondering if the Democratic moderates want Bernie Sanders to be President?” Matthews asked out loud during a discussion with Politico’s Elena Schneider. “I mean, that’s maybe too exciting a question to raise–they don’t like Trump at all. Do they want Bernie Sanders to take over the Democratic Party in perpetuity?”…

“I mean, he takes it over, he sets the direction of the future of the party,” Matthews continued. “Maybe they’d rather wait four years and put in the Democrat that they like.”…

“It’s early,” Elrod continued.

“How about losing the future?” Matthews prodded again.

Why, my dear boy, socialism is the future. That’ll be the party line for Democrats for the next generation or two if Sanders wins. Or at least until some other socialist nominee gets walloped in a presidential election.

Some leftists who weren’t gung ho for Sanders initially have already begun preaching about his basic acceptability:

And of course, others in the party “mainstream” aren’t as far away from him on matters like foreign policy as some would like to believe:

One wrinkle in the party accommodating itself to Bernie and socialism is the fate of the House this fall. It’s exceedingly rare for the House majority to flip to one party and then back again in the span of one election cycle but Democrats are worried about it, knowing how heavily their advantage depends on holding the seats they won in reddish districts in 2018. The Democratic nightmare scenario is Trump in charge of a unified Republican government in his second term, with neither the voters nor the House a check on him any longer. If “socialism” is as toxic to suburbanites as everyone expects, that’s a real possibility. Jonathan Chait, an Obama-style liberal, has a new piece out this afternoon titled “If Democrats Aren’t Terrified of Bernie, They’re Not Paying Attention.”

All the candidates have exposed themselves by taking at least a few unpopular positions, but none have gone quite as far as Sanders. What makes Bernie’s profile uniquely toxic is the way his liabilities all reinforce each other. He combines discrete, deeply unpopular policy positions with an unpopular socialist label, which in turn reinforce the fact that his campaign is premised on radically changing the economy, the one thing most voters believe Trump has done well. His historic statements praising various leftist dictators reinforce the impression of kookery…

The Sanders campaign’s standard-issue response to electability concerns is to tout his ability to generate enthusiasm which, he predicts, will produce the highest voter turnout in history. But his campaign has failed to produce anything like this so far. Even given the near-optimal conditions of the campaign’s early stages, when his organizers could devote months concentrating all their resources on a handful of low-turnout contests, they have not yielded any measurable spike. Iowa and Nevada had lower turnout than the last contested primary. New Hampshire had somewhat higher turnout, though the increase was concentrated in areas won by Bernie’s opponents.

A booming economy isn’t the logical political climate in which to nominate a socialist, notes Chait, let alone a 78-year-old socialist with heart trouble. Can Bernie win? Absolutely. Is Bernie likely to win? Not so much, and the chance of a wipeout is real. I think the most probable outcome of the presidential/House races this fall is the status quo, with Trump winning and the Democrats holding their majority, followed by a Republican sweep, then a Democratic sweep, and then a weird but intriguing scenario in which Bernie wins but the GOP takes back the House. (The odds of that last one are vanishingly small, I’d guess, but maybe there’s some weird scenario in which Trump’s personal baggage costs him his own election while Bernie’s ideological baggage costs Democrats downballot via ticket-splitting.) I wonder which of those four permutations Democratic leaders would most prefer, bearing in mind Matthews’s point that a Sanders win would change the party’s orientation for a generation or more. Would they prefer a second Trump term with Democrats in total control in Congress to a Democratic sweep with socialism and the Berniebro cult ascendant? How about it, Nancy?

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