Expect go-for-jugular campaign tactics

The numbers aren’t pointing that way but in the event Bernie Sanders becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, one of the key factors that would determine how he fares would be whether he can ably withstand the assuredly withering onslaught mounted by the other side to highlight the “socialist” and / or “communist” label they would pin on Sanders. For the duration of the campaign thus far, just about every contending Republican has made a point of boasting he was best positioned to defeat Hillary Clinton, obviously because they considered her the more formidable of the two Democrats. But that extremist branding of Sanders is by no means off the Republican radar… and has in fact begun.

Habitual viewers of Fox can probably attest to this as regular occurrence, but we heard, on another network radio station, an advertisement for a Fox program which referenced “socialist Bernie Sanders.” Recently, when he accused the Sanders camp of organizing disruptions of his campaign events, Donald Trump called Sanders “that communist.” But to whatever extent they’ve engaged in such calculated labeling of Sanders to date, it’s but a modest practice run and small potatoes to the “rolling thunder” type of operation that would be trotted out, if it becomes necessary.

Notwithstanding all of the internecine sparring among Republicans over the Trump candidacy, surely not too much of the polity is convinced that, should he become the nominee, we’re any less likely to see the go-for-the-jugular tactics from the Republican establishment and its super-PAC surrogates that have defined their campaign strategy. Painting Sanders as a zany leftist spouting un-American rhetoric would be low-hanging fruit for GOP tacticians. And they would relish it as a campaign bonanza no less voraciously than was the Michael Dukakis furlough of Willie Horton pounced upon in 1988 as major artillery in the victory path for George H.W. Bush. Not to mention that the right-side thrust in campaign battle is quite a bit meaner today than it was in ’88.

No one with faculties intact would expect, for instance, that, never mind the brouhaha with Trump and Megyn Kelly and whatever else has spilled into the news about Trump-related friction, Fox would be a neutral bystander, were Trump to be the GOP candidate. They will be in there, along with the usual suspects in the right-wing echo chamber, doing what they do. Clinton will be pilloried, should she be the nominee, not unlike incoming fire from that quarter since she stepped into the national spotlight in 1992. And Sanders, should he be the one, will provide attack specialists on the right with the kind of target they dream about.

Supporters of Sanders will of course insist it’s a different vibe this time but, if history is any guide, Democrats have cause for apprehension when insurgencies launched from the party’s left get into the presidential campaign mix. In the late 1960s–early 70s period, at the height of America’s Vietnam quagmire, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern headed movements largely driven, like the Sanders bid, by high-energy support from young folk. McCarthy, after forcing LBJ to abandon a re-election run in 1968, failed to get the party’s nomination. McGovern was the nominee in 1972, only to be soundly beaten by Richard Nixon. It’s been known to happen — intra-party squabbles facilitating an election outcome that pleases none of the warring factions. Worse, a result that even voters come to regard as having been wrong-headed.

Sanders has mounted his nomination quest on stated ideals that would inform his precepts for governance, some of which have met with skepticism…being much too out of synch with what’s really doable (tuition-free public colleges and a revolutionizing of Wall Street, for example). He also hacks away constantly at the “evil” of accepting campaign contributions from the wealthy. In truth, even Barack Obama, whose team in the 2008 campaign formulated the small-contribution model that Sanders has now successfully adopted, was not averse to support from well-to-do donors. Stark reality is, once there remains no interest on Capitol Hill in genuine campaign finance reform, Democrats cannot afford to forgo trying to remain competitive with a traditionally better endowed GOP. Sanders can of course set for himself whatever funding guidelines he chooses, but his inference that accepting donations from the wealthy necessarily means being beholden to them, doesn’t do him proud.

We’re living through, this year, an inscrutable exercise of participatory democracy, mostly courtesy the offending presence of a buffoon who has no business in any presidential discussion. Added to which, what is apparently the Republican alternative to this clown is another joker who likewise doesn’t belong there. How mortifying is it to know that there are folks willing to engage in pitched battle of any kind to entrust the country’s leadership to those types?

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