Do the folks who are concerned that Bernie Sanders would be swiftboated in a general election have a point?
Just as it is an article of faith among Sanders supporters that Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton is a “corporatist” who will stab progressives in the front if she becomes the 45th president, so too is it received wisdom among Clinton supporters that Sanders would be snapped in half by right-wing media/political operatives if he pulls off a political miracle and upsets Clinton for the Democratic nomination; the usual argument is that right-wing media/political operatives would exploit Sanders’s self-classification as a “democratic socialist” to run roughshod over him on November 8.
Yes, it’s true that right-wing media/political operatives labeled Obama a socialist in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, and the attack failed. However, it’s also true that Obama never labeled himself a socialist, democratic or otherwise.
Would Sanders really be a sitting duck in the fall? Sanders supporters point to polls showing that the Vermonter would be a stronger general-election candidate. However, Clinton supporters would obviously point out that Michael Dukakis was 17 points ahead of George H. W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election before right-wing media/political operatives unsheathed their machetes.
It is not irrational to be concerned that right-wing media/political operatives will exploit Sanders’s difficulties with black voters in a general election, promoting the idea that a Sanders administration will try to curry favor with African-Americans by lavishing largesse upon communities of color at the expense of working-class whites (especially the ones who have gravitated to Donald Trump). Right-wing media/political operatives (with Fox leading the charge, of course) will not hesitate to push the notion that “democratic socialism” is a politically correct term for “handouts in the ‘hood”; one cannot blithely dismiss the idea that a certain percentage of the voters who now say they would support Sanders over a Republican rival in a general election would be successfully seduced by relentless right-wing racial rhetoric in the weeks prior to Election Day.
Right-wing media attacks would not be Sanders’s only problem in a general election. It’s quite likely that mainstream-media outlets will also paint Sanders in the most negative light possible, in retaliation for Sanders’s extensive criticism of corporate-owned media entities. Presumably, the “corporate media” organizations the Vermonter has denounced would not be thrilled with the prospect of a President Sanders spending four to eight years condemning them daily from the bully pulpit of the White House, and encouraging Americans to stop reading and watching publications and programs connected to conglomerates. It’s entirely possible that mainstream-media outlets will be every bit as harsh as the conservative media will be towards Sanders, albeit for different reasons. You can imagine the perspective of the “corporate media” in this respect: Hey, Sanders isn’t being fair towards us; why the heck should we be fair towards him?
Does Team Sanders have a plan in place for dealing with tag-team trashing from conservative media and mainstream media in the event Sanders does the impossible and defeats Clinton for the Democratic nomination? If not, then the general-election savaging of Sanders will be remembered as the political equivalent of the chainsaw scene in Scarface.
UPDATE: More from Chris Hayes.