The confusing jumble that was the 2020 Iowa caucuses proved to be a very public disaster for Hawkeye State Democrats, national party leaders, and the campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden.
It was also a disaster, although not yet as public a disaster, for another group: North Carolina Democrats such as Gov. Roy Cooper.
Cooper has amassed an impressive war chest and enjoys early polling leads against his likely GOP challenger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. Other Democratic candidates for state and local offices have high hopes, as well, fueled primarily by the polarizing presidency of Donald Trump.
But if Bernie Sanders — headed from a strong performance in Iowa to a likely win in New Hampshire — ends up at the top of the ticket, all bets will be off. North Carolina Republicans couldn’t ask for a bigger favor.
Sanders isn’t a garden-variety Democrat. He isn’t even the kind of progressive Democrat who can now find a secure political home in urban counties such as Wake, Mecklenburg, and Guilford. Sanders is a self-professed socialist. In fact, he is a barely reconstructed apologist for communist dictators.
I use the term advisedly. In his early days as an activist and local politician, Sanders championed the Cuban revolution of Fidel Castro and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. He honeymooned in the Soviet Union. Much later, in 2011, Sen. Sanders would even list Venezuela, then under the thumb of dictator Hugo Chavez, as one of the South American places where “the American dream is more apt to be realized, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?”
Sanders did not praise Chavez personally, and he sometimes criticizes past actions by communist regimes. That’s why I call him a “barely reconstructed” apologist. While he may occasionally express regrets about real-world socialism’s broken eggs, Sanders has always been more about the omelets.
I know he intends nothing so drastic for the United States. But a man with such colossally bad judgment has no business setting foot anywhere near the White House.
For a party that promises to make the character and judgment of the current occupant of the White House the central theme of the 2020 election cycle, nominating Sanders would be one of the greatest self-inflicted wounds in American political history.
As for policy issues, the Sanders platform is full of dangerous landmines for Democrats. There will be no need for Republicans to stretch the truth to make their case. Sanders really does want to increase federal spending by trillions of dollars — by so much that taxes would have to go up for most Americans, not just for the wealthy. He really does want to get rid of private health insurance and drastically increase energy prices.
Let me put it this way. I know Republican voters who held their noses in 2016 and voted for Donald Trump for prudential reasons, such as the balance on the U.S. Supreme Court, but who continue to disapprove of the president’s conduct as well as his spending and trade policies. I know Republican-leaning voters who picked Trump as the lesser of two obnoxious evils. I know truly independent voters who picked Trump as a disruptor in 2016 but voted Democratic in 2018 as a check and balance. Many of these voters might, under the right circumstances, be persuaded to vote against Donald Trump this fall.
Not a single one of them would vote for Bernie Sanders under any circumstances. And they’ll look askance at any North Carolina Democrat who offers even dutiful support for a Sanders presidential candidacy.
Yes, I’ve heard the countervailing theory that Bernie Sanders will attract and energize a coalition of young and infrequent voters so large that they will swamp any losses among swing voters. Color me unconvinced.
Democratic leaders in North Carolina can see what I see. They have long assumed Sanders would not be the nominee. So have I. But what if he is?
John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.