Does Sanders relish a feel-good defeat?

Even with the no-longer flailing Joe Biden finally coming back in South Carolina’s primary, wise Democrats are looking warily ahead to the uncertainties of next week’s 14 state Super Tuesday primaries.
And what they are seeing frightens them.
They see that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont still remains best-positioned, in terms of contributions and a robust campaign organization, to score significant gains in the coast-to-coast contests. Biden is severely understaffed and underfunded in many major contests. Mike Bloomberg must hope voters have paid attention to his massive blanket of TV ads and have paid no attention to the unappealing man behind the curtain of recent debates.
Meanwhile Democrats at all levels can’t get over the reality that Sanders remains the unlikeliest early frontrunner to win the presidential nomination of a party he still doesn’t officially claim as his. Sanders’ Senate website press releases correctly refer to him as “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.),” because he is officially an independent. And Sanders proudly proclaims that he is a “democratic socialist.” It is a designation that savvy Democrats understand could drive swing voters away from their party’s House and Senate candidates in November.
Of course, Sanders’ “democratic socialist” banner has earned him some support from powerful people in prominent places. Among them: President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin (and his election saboteurs). They have been plotting to find ways of helping Sanders become Trump’s 2020 opponent. Why? Because they consider Sanders their most beatable opponent in November. Sanders is probably the one opponent who will cause even Trump-hating Republicans to hold their nose and vote for four more years.
What really mystifies smart pols in both major parties is why Sanders seems to go out of his way to remind voters about the very things he knows they hate to hear. Even if it costs him a chance of carrying battleground states.
Indeed, Sanders often seems a rather perverse pol who finds satisfaction in saying things that can hurt him politically. It’s as if he sometimes relishes the reward of a feel-good defeat.
In a recent CBS News “60 Minutes” interview, Sanders was asked about his ancient comment, made in the 1980s, that Cubans didn’t try to overthrow Cuba’s communist dictator, Fidel Castro, because “he educated their kids, gave them health care, totally transformed the society, you know?”
You don’t need a doctorate in political science to know that being asked to defend that during a 2020 campaign is akin to being asked to tap dance on quicksand in front of an audience of Florida’s huge anti-Castro Cuban exiles. A politically attuned Sanders could have simply said that the Cuban dictator made sure Cubans could read but his censorship made sure they could only read his brutal regime’s propaganda.
But of course Sanders merely did his familiar dance, one more time: “We’re very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba but you know, it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know? When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” And predictably, a cloudburst of criticism erupted in Florida — including Democrats’ warnings that Sanders could have just cost them any chance of carrying that crucial swing state.
Meanwhile, in recent weeks, it has also been surprising to see Sanders unveil a demagogic side that could have been lifted from Donald Trump’s attack-politics playbook. Sanders began attacking the one opponent who technically bested him in the first delegate contests, Pete Buttigieg. Sanders attacked the former South Bend, Ind. mayor for accepting contributions from
40 billionaires — and repeatedly contended Buttigieg was beholden to billionaires.
“Unlike some of the folks up here, I don’t have 40 billionaires, Pete, contributing to my campaign,” Sanders said in the New Hampshire debate.
But wait. What Sanders carefully avoided saying was that Buttigieg’s 40 contributions from billionaires were limited to the legal maximum amount of $2,800 each. And as the Center for Responsive Politics’ excellent website shows, Sanders received 1,491 contributions of the $2,800 maximum limit. So all we are left with is the nonbreaking news that in politics, money still talks.
Frankly, we are also left thinking that somehow we expected Bernie Sanders to be better than that.
Martin Schram is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at