Presidential Campaign

Bernie Sanders was GOP debate’s real winner

Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has won a doubleheader victory this week. His dramatic gains in the presidential campaign have been recognized by TIME magazine placing him on its cover, a major breakthrough in conventional media for Sanders, while his critical commentary about the debate in his Facebook post was by far the single most-read Facebook post of the evening!

{mosads}The decision by TIME to make Sanders its cover story is hugely important. It is a long overdue recognition by a bastion of the old media that Sanders offers an extraordinary populist message that has ignited a powerful populist grassroots movement. Almost all of the mainstream media have been far too slow to recognize the power of the progressive populist movement that Sanders calls a political revolution. This is finally, fortunately, beginning to change and the TIME magazine cover story is exhibit A of the progress Sanders and his supporters have made.

On the second front, the ability of Sanders to win the social media front to criticize Republicans and promote his populist agenda combines the medium of the moment with the message that resonates with voters.

Several weeks ago, Jenny Q. Ta, a nationally prominent entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of the social media “net-WORTH-ing platform” told me that social media in the 2016 campaign will be as powerful as television was during the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960. How right she was!

My point today is that Sanders won the GOP debate on two levels.

First, don’t miss the story in The Hill by Neetzan Zimmerman, who is spearheading The Hill’s social media initiatives, reporting that Sanders’s critique of the debate on Facebook was far more popular than any other presidential candidate of either party. This triumph by Sanders in the new medium of social media has powerful implications for Sanders winning the battle of ideas of his message against Republicans.

Second, Sanders has the advantage of the message conveyed by the media, old and new. Sanders’s core argument is that our economy is unjust, unfair, rigged in favor of the super-wealthy and rigged against poor and middle-class Americans.

Perhaps the high point of the debate was super-wealthy Donald Trump attacking the business practices of ultra-wealthy Carly Fiorina, while Fiorina counterattacked with criticism of Trump’s business practices. The view of Sanders is they are both right about each other!

Compared to the egalitarian populism and social justice campaign of Sanders, the Trump-Fiorina debate is between one member of the 1 percent — Trump — who exploited bankruptcy laws four times to help himself at the expense of others, versus another member of the 1 percent — Fiorina — who laid off tens of thousands of workers while enriching herself before being fired as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Bernie Sanders will win this debate, on old media and new media, because he has the far more powerful message no matter what media the message are communicated through.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at

Tags 2016 presidential campaign 2016 Republican debates 2016 Republican primary Bernie Sanders
See all Hill.TV See all Video