Bernie Sanders is throwing a hail mary - fully embracing the "socialist" label that the nearly two-dozen other 2020 Democratic candidates have been careful to avoid, according to Bloomberg.
The Vermont Senator will make this clear during a Wednesday afternoon speech at George Washington University, where he plans to defend so-called 'Democratic Socialism,' calling it the only path to ending "authoritarianism" and oligarchy.
He will also argue that now that the U.S. has guaranteed civil rights for all, the next step is economic rights, including guaranteed health care coverage, a clean environment and the right to “as much education as one needs to succeed in our society.”
“We must recognize that in the 21st century, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, economic rights are human rights,” he will say, according to excerpts provided by his campaign. “This is what I mean by democratic socialism.” -Bloomberg
Sanders will also note that many of the proposals and causes he's championed for decades are now mainstream and growing in popularity.
That said, Sanders will need to make a convincing case that 'Democratic Socialism' is in fact different from other forms of socialism, which "has a lot of baggage" according to Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas.
"A lot of his policies are popular with the American people if they don’t come under the ‘socialism’ banner," said Petkanas, adding "To lean into that label has risks in the general election and may not have the benefits he thinks it does in the primary."
Sanders will double-down on socialism as he trails former Vice President Joe Biden by more than 15 points on average, according to RealClear Politics - although Biden's popularity has taken a hit over the last four weeks amid negative headlines over the Hyde Amendment, plagiarism and allegations of nepotism.
The Sanders campaign is focused on the wealth gap - calling for a series of socialist programs as well as more regulation governing consumer and environmental protection, while taxing the wealthy to pay for it.
Sanders' Republican foes have roundly heckled him for his socialist roots - with Trump warning that the United States would risk becoming like 'chaotic' Venezuela under a Democrat presidency. Trump isn't alone in his criticism.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, makes frequent reference to the “socialist” tendencies of 2020 Democratic contenders and forced a vote on the Democrats’ Green New Deal climate-change outline in an effort to corner the seven senators vying for the Democratic nod.
McConnell, in a radio interview on Tuesday with the conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt, accused the Democrats of peddling “full-scale socialism.”
“They want to turn us into sort of a Western European socialist country,” he said. “Remember what Margaret Thatcher said about socialism. She said ‘the problem with socialism is pretty soon you run out of other people’s money.’ That’s where they are and that’s why we need to beat them next year.” -Bloomberg
In late May, Politico reported on three-and-a-half hours of footage from Bernie and Jane Sanders' 1988 'honeymoon' to the Soviet Union which the news outlet obtained. As we noted at the time, it appears as though the footage might make it difficult for Sanders to distance himself from his support for Communist regimes both the USSR and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, where he also visited.
In the footage, Sanders, often seated under or near portraits of Vladimir Lenin, would extol the virtues of Soviet life.
The hours of footage include a scene of Sanders sitting with his delegation at a table under a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. Sanders can also be heard extolling the virtues of Soviet life and culture, even as he acknowledges some of their shortcomings. There are flashes of humor, too, such as his host warning the American guests not to cross the KGB, or else. -Politico
This may not play well with American Democrats, who prefer a differently packaged form of socialism as long as it's not actually called 'socialism.' As Bloomberg notes, "A recent Monmouth University poll found that 57% of adult Americans said socialism wasn’t compatible with American values, and just 29% said that it was. At the same time, the April 11 to 15 poll also found that just 42% have a negative view of socialism in general, while 45% had a neutral opinion and 10% had a positive view of socialism."
That said, the poll unsurprisingly found that Democrats were more favorable to socialism - with just 32% saying it isn't compatible with American values and 50% saying it is.
Sanders on Wednesday will compare himself to Roosevelt, saying: "Over eighty years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt helped create a government that made huge progress in protecting the needs of working families," and "Today in the second decade of the 21st century we must take up the unfinished business of the New Deal and carry it to completion. This is the unfinished business of the Democratic Party and the vision we must accomplish."
The rest of the 2020 Democrats, meanwhile, are scoffing at Sanders
Warren has rejected the term, saying she embraces capitalism with rules to protect the working class.
While campaigning in Iowa last weekend, Warren laughed when she was told Sanders would argue the only way to address authoritarianism and oligarchy is democratic socialism.
“I haven’t heard the speech yet, if that makes sense to you that that’s the only way,” she told reporters. “I’ll have to hear the speech.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, another Democratic contender, said in an interview she rejects the label, favoring a free-market system that has improved “checks and balances” like better anti-trust enforcement.
“We are the Democratic party and my own belief is that our nation is strong when we have an economy that works for everyone, and that means not stifling entrepreneurship,” she said. -Bloomberg
Time will tell if Bernie's gambit pays off. The last presidential candidate who was scoffed at by his competitors ended up in the Oval Office.