Karl Rove: Sanders could win presidency in 2020

Republican strategist Karl Rove says Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (I-Vt.) could defeat President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE in 2020.

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Rove cited Sanders's performance at a Monday town hall on Fox News, during which the audience applauded his calls for "Medicare for All."

“When only 37% of Americans in the RealClearPolitics average think the country is going in the right direction while 56.4% think it’s on the wrong track, Mr. Sanders could be perceived as an agent of change,” Rove wrote.

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“If he is the Democratic nominee, Mr. Trump’s task will be to convince Americans that a socialist turn would be a ruinous change. Based on Monday’s town hall, that won’t be as easy as Republicans may think. Mr. Sanders is a real contender,” he added.

Rove wrote that Sanders showed he has improved as a candidate since 2016, citing how he sidestepped a question about whether he benefitted from the Republican tax cuts to focus instead on Trump's refusal to release his own returns.

Rove added that Sanders had learned how to “smooth socialism’s rough edges" and now had a message focused on economic disparities that resonated with voters.

Polls show Sanders as one of the top-tier Democratic presidential candidates, running second behind former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE in most polls.

A national poll last week showed him in first place and as the top beneficiary if Biden, who has still not formally announced, decides not to run.

Sanders’s Fox News town hall drew more than 2.55 million viewers as well as the ire of Trump, a frequent Fox News viewer, who accused the network of not allowing Trump supporters into the event.