The biggest threat to unity is the “Anybody But Bernie” crowd
A movement of millions: Supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., cheer as he speaks at a campaign event in Tacoma, Wash., Monday, Feb. 17. | Ted S. Warren / AP

Wall Street Democrats’ worst nightmare seems to be coming true: The momentum of a self-declared socialist who threatens to make health care accessible to every American and pledges to combat climate change while creating green, union jobs is looking increasingly unstoppable. Scroll through the Twitter feed of “centrist think tank” Third Way these days and you’ll get the sense that doomsday is fast approaching.

He’s “the definition of unelectable.” Covering everyone’s health care costs through Medicare for All is a “toxic” idea. We have to “beware the ‘pixie dust’” that the way to win is by increasing turnout among people of color and youth. There is “nothing more scary” than nominating a socialist for president.

And who is the angel heralding an impending apocalypse of greater equality and progress? Sen. Bernie Sanders, of course.

Third Way President Jonathan Cowan speaks at the centrist think tank’s “Opportunity 2020” summit in June 2019. | Third Way via Twitter

Third Way is the place where the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party takes institutional form. In an earlier life, its supporters were known as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the outfit which dominated policy during the Bill Clinton administration in the 1990s. They’re the ones who brought us “welfare reform,” government downsizing of the liberal variety, the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill, and NAFTA.

A short while ago, Third Way was crowing that “nothing would be more disastrous” than going down the populist path of wealth taxes and bank regulation that was being trumpeted by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They’re part of the same milieu of big money that has said they’d back Trump before they’ll support the left. But now, with Sanders the undisputed front-runner, all fire is focused on him.

“He has made it his mission to either get the nomination or to remake the party in his image as a democratic socialist. That is an existential threat to the future of the Democratic Party,” Third Way president and co-founder Jon Cowan told The Guardian newspaper recently. Former Bill Clinton strategist James Carville was a bit more explicit when speaking to Politico: “Having him for president of the United States? Are you f*cking kidding me?”

The biggest challenge for the Wall Street Dems, however, has been that there remains no single moderate for them to rally around who really excites all that many people. There is no Bill Clinton equivalent these days. Their great hope to block Bernie, former Vice President Joe Biden, has so far bombed in the early nomination contests. Mayor Pete Buttigieg had a strong showing in Iowa, but given his significant challenges with Black voters who question his past criminal justice and other policies, the road looks tougher as the primaries of bigger, more diverse states approach. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was a possibility, but her appeal outside the Midwest is apparently a concern.

Then, it appeared for a moment that one of their own kind, billionaire Mike Bloomberg, might be able to spend enough money to buy his way to the nomination. Sure, he used to be a Republican and has a lot of right-wing political baggage, but at least he’s not a socialist, right? After his disastrous performance at his first primary debate in Nevada, however, the Bloomberg bump may end up being a short-lived one. As desperation sets in would Third Way give even Warren a second look if they think she has a chance to slow Sanders? It would indeed be interesting if Wall Street liberals, for once, were the ones facing the “lesser-evil” dilemma.

More on Third Way:

Wall Street Democrats want you to hate Bernie Sanders

Third way Democrats preparing to challenge the left for factional control

Billionaires for Bernie? Third Way would have you think so

For now, though, with no clear standard-bearer for their cause, the “Anybody But Bernie” segment of the Democratic Party is floundering around, giving Trump a run for his money in the competition to see who can scream the loudest about the dangers of socialism.

Just before the primaries and caucuses that have been held so far, they’ve been seeding the local media in the early voting states with leaks of “memos” outlining supposed socialist liabilities and Bernie’s “politically toxic background.”

Third Way calls Sanders the “ideal” candidate for Trump and Republicans: “They will call him a socialist.” “They will say that he thinks the middle class wants to pay more in taxes.” “They will say he’s backed anti-American radicals.” “They will say Sanders has proposed abolishing the U.S. military.” “They will say he sided with Iran….” “They will say he’s…truly offensive and crazy….”

Trump has already said, “a vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream.” So, if being attacked by Trump is enough to disqualify someone from being the Democratic nominee, who’s left to run? Maybe they’ll have to just name Trump himself as the Democratic candidate, as The Onion has sarcastically proposed.

But how many people are really scared of socialism these days? Polls are scattered. A January Gallup poll found 76% of Democratic voters would back a socialist candidate. Another poll, from NPR/PBS/Marist, says 58% of adults view socialism unfavorably, though 52% of progressives give it the thumbs-up, as do a plurality of African Americans (45%). NPR concluded that results show “questions about [Sanders’] electability against President Trump persist because he self-identifies as a democratic socialist.” Yet, the same poll also found that Bernie beats Trump 48% to 45% if the election were held today.

Sen. Bernie Sanders shakes hands with supporters following his speech in Tacoma. | Ted S. Warren / AP

If Americans are supposedly so down on socialism, how is that they would still pick the socialist over Trump? After more than a century of being inundated by intense anti-socialist and anti-communist propaganda, it’s little wonder that the label still makes some uncomfortable. For the most part, a lot of people still don’t have a really good idea of what socialism even means. But what they do know is that when Sanders talks about health care for all, reversing tax cuts for the super-rich, canceling student loans, fighting climate change, and cutting military spending, they like what they hear.

The socialist boogeyman is losing its effectiveness, but Trump and Third Way are determined to squeeze every last drop out of it that they can. When good ideas that benefit the majority of people are denounced as socialist, more and more Americans start questioning what’s so bad about socialism. Trump and Third Way might not realize it, but these attacks have the potential to generate even more interest in socialism and raise more questions about capitalism.

As the 2020 elections get closer, it’s increasingly clear that there’s a major class struggle going on in this country. Donald Trump and the Republican Party he now controls from top to bottom are leading the charge of one faction of the ruling elite, but the political representatives of Wall Street in the Democratic Party are doing their part as well. They are determined not to let an insurgent working class-based campaign take over “their” party or threaten their place as successors to Trump.

So if anyone wants to know the greatest danger to building a mass, united movement to stop Trump in November, they should be looking to Wall Street, not the amorphous villain known as the “Bernie Bros.” The biggest threat to unity right now is not the left; it’s the “Anybody But Bernie” crowd.

As with all People’s World opinion articles, the views expressed here are those of the author.


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.