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Bernie Sanders Could Actually Win

If the election boils down to a grudge match between socialism and corruption, there is a good chance that the socialist will win.

Many Trump supporters seem almost giddy about the prospect of Trump-Bernie race this fall. To many people, the biggest question is whether Sanders will do better or worse than Walter Mondale’s 49-state loss in 1984. Very few people, even among the Democratic establishment, seem to consider the possibility that Bernie might win.

Mitch McConnell is one of the few who seems to be trying to tamp down what former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan would refer to as “irrational exuberance.” Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, the Senate Majority Leader attempted to rein in the premature celebrations.

“I’m reminded of when the Democrats back in 1980 were all pulling for Ronald Reagan to be the nominee because they thought he’d be the easiest to beat,” McConnell said in Politico. “I think it’s going to be a contested general election with a lot of energy on both sides, and for myself, I’ll leave it up to the Democrats to pick who they’d like to be their candidate.”

Republicans are licking their chops and waiting for the opportunity to dump a veritable truckload of opposition research on the Sanders campaign. Bernie’s trips to the Soviet Union and apologetics for dictators are no secret, but many undecided voters (read, voters who don’t argue politics on Facebook and Twitter ad infinitum ad nauseam) will not yet be familiar with them. These skeletons in Bernie’s closet will be devastating, the Republican reasoning goes.

Yet, it doesn’t occur to most Republicans that the Bernie campaign has plenty of ammunition with which to return Trump’s fire. Republicans are going full steam ahead in nominating the man who may well be the most corrupt president in American history.

The Republican victory in acquitting Donald Trump only prolonged the public discovery process about the president’s activities. Because the Senate decided not to call impeachment witnesses, itself an unprecedented act, the public will now find out what John Bolton has to say about Trump and the quid pro quo for aid to Ukraine when his book hits the shelves on March 17. The White House response is to try to halt publication of the book on the national security grounds.

Bolton’s book isn’t the only potential problem for the Trump campaign. Trump’s second national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, is also publishing a tell-all that will be released in April. McMaster and the president had a rocky relationship before the former general was dismissed in April 2018.

In fact, there is no shortage of former Trump Administration officials who had rocky relationships with the president and any number of them could come out with damaging books, op-eds, or statements between now and November. In particular, the former “adults in the room,” Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and John Kelly could do a lot to sink Trump’s re-election chances if they want.

To some extent, the members of the trio have already spoken out. For example, Tillerson called the president a “pretty undisciplined” person who likes to do illegal things in a 2018 interview with CBS News while Mattis let his venomously polite resignation letter do his talking for him. Just a few weeks ago, Kelly let loose at Trump in a question-and-answer session at Drew University where he told students and a reporter from The Atlantic that a major problem in the Trump Administration was the shortage of confident advisors who were strong enough to tell the president “no.” Any of these former Trump Administration officials could make big trouble for the Trump campaign by telling of their experiences with the president and pronouncing him unfit to lead the country.

But wait, as Billy Mays used to say, there’s more.

Among the host of Trump Administration cases winding their way through the courts are two lawsuits over the disclosure of Donald Trump’s tax returns. The Supreme Court issued a temporary stay in November after lower courts ordered the president’s tax documents released to Congress. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in March but it seems likely that the tax returns will be made public prior to the election. No one knows exactly what is in the president’s tax documents, but the Administration has fought tooth and nail to keep them secret after Trump’s initial promises to release them to the public.

And then there is Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani who rocked Washington in January with his photos with a Who’s Who of Republicans and tales of Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine. Parnas previously released an audio recording of the president discussing the firing of Marie Yovanovitch and his lawyer says that he has more tapes of the president.

Yet another possible problem for Team Trump is the prospect of a Coronavirus recession. For years, the sole, unequivocal bright spots of the Trump Administration have been the rising stock market and the strong economy. Now, however, stock markets have shown declines for three consecutive days as investors worry about the virus’s effect on international trade.  

I’m not predicting that Bernie Sanders will be our next president, but I am saying that the election could easily go either way. In 2016, Hillary was bedeviled by a constant drip of bad and embarrassing stories throughout the last few months of the campaign. In 2020, a similar pattern could emerge for Donald Trump. If the election boils down to a grudge match between socialism and corruption, there is a good chance that the socialist will win.

Republicans who are longing for a Bernie Sanders nomination should be careful what they wish for. They could get more than they bargained for.

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