Shortly after Bernie Sanders decisively won the Nevada caucuses for the 2020 presidential nomination, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews made a reference to the victory of Nazi Germany against France in 1940, stating “It’s too late to stop him, it’s over.” Sanders supporters were immediately up in arms over the comment, as the candidate is of Jewish descent, provoking many on social media to call for the immediate resignation of the “Hardball” host. Sanders has repeated complained of unfair coverage of his campaign by the network, and reportedly he complained directly to MSNBC President Phil Griffin over the issue.
Longtime Democratic strategist James Carville appeared on MSNBC to warn that nominating Sanders to face President Donald Trump in the upcoming election would be the equivalent of “political suicide.” Carville stated that he understood the position of voters, but from a electoral science standpoint, it was not possible for Sanders to defeat Trump. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace then went on to describe a Sanders win as “hitting the bottom.”
After the victory, Pete Buttigieg’s campaign called for a release of early vote and in-person vote totals, with his campaign citing “errors and inconsistencies”, and with Buttigieg himself issuing a warning to voters that Sanders is leading an “inflexible, ideological revolution” that promotes a “toxic tone.” Although Sanders won Nevada with a healthy margin, the race for second place is very close, and candidates are anxious to demonstrate a strong showing going into South Carolina next.
Sanders has traditionally been relatively unconcerned with his public image, preferring to focus his rhetoric on a repetitive narrative of a fundamentally flawed American capitalist system that unjustly victimizes the common citizen. As his movement has grown, it has brought along with it some additional baggage ranging from misogynistic “Bernie Bros” promoting extremism to threats of violence if Sanders does not win the presidency. Sanders is now quick to disavow himself of any association with these groups, but the media has been quick to jump on the reports, implying that Sanders has some level of accountability with the more extreme versions of his supporters.
This situation has happened before ten years ago, when conservatives frustrated with the Obama administration broke with the Republican base and loosely organized into a Tea Party movement, focused on a constitutional opposition to big government and high taxes. The media was quick to label Tea Party members as “terrorists,” “neo-Nazis,” “secessionists and racists,” with Tom Friedman referring to them as the “Hezbollah faction” of the GOP. Tea Party opposition to Obama spending policies were labeled as the actions of racists opposed to the president entirely because of his ethnicity.
In 2020, liberals frustrated with the Trump administration have loosely organized as their own faction focused on the evil tyranny of billionaire capitalists and greedy corporations over the common American, sometimes referring to themselves as “Justice Democrats.” Through the media, the movement has gained its own implications of extremism ranging from promoting militant action and violent extremism. Sanders, a longtime outsider of the Democratic Party, now finds himself a viable candidate for the presidential nomination, but as the movement grows, it will need to find a way to deal with the additional baggage that comes along with that growth to clean up its image.