Phillip Maddocks: GOP now sees Sanders as its only hope
Desperate for a savior and envious of his appeal to young voters, Republican Party leaders now see Bernie Sanders as their best and perhaps last chance at sidelining Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary and defeating Hillary Clinton in the general election.
“We’re going to look at it every single day, and we’ll see what happens,” Mitt Romney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“We’ve got a long way to go,” added Mr. Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and an outspoken opponent of Mr. Trump. “I don’t want to project that Bernie’s going to be the nominee. But I’m kind of excited about the idea. Maybe I can be his vice president.”
“Embracing Medicare for all and democratic socialism won’t completely erase the memory of Trump – or my endorsement of Ted Cruz – but it is a welcome first step. And together, with Bernie’s help, we can all get past this awful chapter in our party’s history,” said Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida who left the presidential race after the South Carolina primary.
Jeff Weaver, Mr. Sanders’ campaign manager, seemed perplexed by but open to the idea of a sit-down with Republican leaders.
“We’re always willing to reach across the aisle,” he said. “If they are willing to listen, we’ll talk to them as long as they want about inequality, disastrous trade deals, free college tuition, and a financial transaction tax.”
The eagerness of the GOP establishment to publicly embrace Mr. Sanders is understandable given their deep distrust of Mr. Trump and deep dislike of Mr. Cruz.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not afraid of a democratic socialist – whatever that is. I mean, Donald Trump? Ted Cruz? You tell me which is more scary,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as he uploaded a video of himself destroying a cellphone of his with Ted Cruz’ phone number in its contacts. “If I can swallow my pride, they can, too.”
Mr. Graham said he intended to sound out supporters of John Kasich about whether the Ohio governor may be willing to join forces with Mr. Sanders.
“A Sanders-Kasich ticket is the best way we can stop Trump and then Clinton,” he said. “It’s time to think big here.”
On Wednesday morning, the 3 West Club in New York burst with more than 1,400 Republican office holders and delegates, holding lattes, pushing strollers, wearing “Bernie” lapel pins, and thinking big. Bleachers were set up to accommodate the behind-the-scenes crowd. “This is what democracy looks like,” said one attendee at the private function.
“If he can pull out Wisconsin, I think Sanders draws more interest,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a longtime Republican strategist. “I have to say that right now I am feeling the Bern.”
After watching him route Ms. Clinton in all three Democratic presidential contests last Saturday, Republican leaders like Mr. Cole and Mr. Graham have little doubt that Mr. Sanders has the staying power and appeal to knock off Mr. Trump in a Republican primary and top Ms. Clinton in the general election.
Mr. Cole said that in a largely white and frantic Republican Party leadership that fears Mr. Trump, detests Mr. Cruz, and dislikes Mr. Kasich, Mr. Sanders would find a welcome tableau for his radical ideas.
“I can think of nothing that would better infuse his underdog campaign with critical momentum and bolster his argument that the race for the nomination is not a foregone conclusion than showing that he could run even more successfully as a candidate for the opposition party,” Mr. Cole said. “Now that would be a political revolution.”
As Mr. Cole, Mr. Graham, and Mr. Romney seek to unite the disparate factions of the
Republican Party - bonded only by their dead-set opposition to Mr. Trump – around a Bernie Sanders presidential run, a high-wire act is required: welcoming the top ranks of the liberal Sanders campaign to the same establishment that has spent years excoriating government expansion and most of what the Vermont senator has fought for during his legislative career, while not abandoning the hard-line conservatives who have supported the party.
But if the logic of Bernie Sanders as a Republican Party standard-bearer isn’t there, the enthusiasm for it seems to be.
“I appreciate Bernie’s fervor and honesty,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. “We can’t emulate it, but maybe it’s something we can use.”
— Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at email@example.com.