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If I Were Advising Bernie Sanders…

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by Andy Schmookler 

If I were advising Bernie Sanders…I’d advise him to focus his campaign on calling out the Republicans the various outrageous things said or done by any of the major contenders.

Not only would this be good for the Democrats—since every likely Republican nominee has been saying things that are indefensible and disgraceful.

Not only would this be good for the country because high-lighting the ugliness of today’s Republican Party, which has become more blatant than ever before, could help the nation return to more sane and constructive politics.

But it would also be good for Bernie in his race against Hillary. Here’s why.
The people who will be voting in the Democratic primaries want – perhaps above all – to pick a nominee who can win next November.

Looked at in conventional terms, the issue of “electability” seems to favor Hillary Clinton. One of Bernie Sanders’ major handicaps is that this 74-year-old, Jewish, self-described “Democratic socialist” does not look tailor-made for winning a general election.

Bernie has sought to score against Hillary by emphasizing that he has advocated the progressive positions Hillary has lately embraced “from Day One.” A fair point: Bernie Sander commitment to these issues appears deeper and more genuine than Hillary Clinton’s.

But the polls show that most Democrats are satisfied enough with Hillary’s positions, despite the sense that – unlike Bernie – she adopts those positions on the basis of political calculation.

But winning this election will not be just about positions on issues. It will also be about being able to take it to the Republicans. Who will be best able to expose their demagoguery, their lies, their feeding people’s fears and hatreds, and their playing fast and loose with the truth?

Integrity could be a big issue here, as the Republican race is rank with an appalling lack of integrity from Trump’s doubling down on his lies on cheering Muslims in New Jersey after 9/11 to Rubio’s transparent backtracking and pandering on immigration.

A candidate with transparent integrity has the most important strength for shooting down those who lack it. (As we contemplate a possible Trump nomination, we might recall how an earlier dishonest bully – Senator Joseph McCarthy — was brought down when a clearly fine man, Joseph Welch, asked that demagogue at the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”)

The polls show that people recognize that Bernie means what he says, that he speaks from genuine moral passion. The polls on Hillary show that she has a problem with voters on just this issue: great majorities of voters question her honesty and trustworthiness.

That means that Bernie has an opportunity here: by credibly exposing and denouncing the outrageousness of the Republicans, he has a chance to demonstrate that he has an important strength that Hillary lacks.

If this forthright and credible man can effectively call out the Republicans for the outrageous character of their presidential campaigns – not only catering to a base that has gone dangerously off the deep end, but also inciting their worst impulses – Democratic voters could well decide that Bernie Sanders is the man for this time.

But even if the Democratic voters stick with Hillary, the front-runner and (presently) the prohibitive favorite, Bernie’s turning his fire onto the Republicans could help clear the way for her election by doing a vital job for which she is much less capable. That in itself would be an accomplishment of great importance: today’s Republican Party is not one that should be placed in control of all three branches of our government.

For years, the Republican Party has become increasingly dark, and – because the Democrats have been weak in calling out the Republicans – it has not had to pay the appropriate political price for it. The nation, as well as the Democrats, have paid an enormous price for that weakness.

The escalating blatancy of this Republican darkness makes this an opportune moment to at last call them out. It is opportune, too, that at this moment Bernie Sanders has achieved a central spot on the national stage.

All that’s needed now is for Bernie to seize this opportunity, and show himself to be the Democratic leader that can show that this Republican Party is an “Emperor” that has no moral clothes.