GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman

GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman
© Bonnie Cash

Republicans are eagerly watching Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic MORE’s (I-Vt.) surge toward the Democratic presidential nomination.

GOP lawmakers and strategists believe Sanders, who identifies as a democratic socialist, is not only beatable in November but could have a disastrous down-ballot impact for Democrats in key congressional races.

“I would think that in a lot of those swing states it’s a very complicated factor to have him at the top of the ticket if you’re a down-ballot Democrat running for House or Senate, I would be really concerned,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.

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Asked if he thought Sanders’s surge was a “blessing,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSkepticism grows over Friday deadline for coronavirus deal Republicans uncomfortably playing defense Negotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts MORE (R-Texas), who is up for reelection, called it “a little scary that there would be that much support for an avowed socialist.”

“It splits the Democratic voters, the people who don’t like President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE very much but when presented with that option might say, ‘Well I’m not going to vote for a socialist. I’ll vote for President Trump rather than do that,’ ” Cornyn said.

The predictions that a Sanders nomination would be a headache for Democrats comes as he holds a lead in the hunt for delegates while moderates remain torn among several potential alternatives.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire McConnell: Wearing a mask is 'single most significant thing' to fight pandemic McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Fla.), in a video taken while he appeared to be driving down a road, said “unless the Democratic establishment steals it from him,” Sanders would be the nominee.

“It’s a big deal for America, and I hope people start waking up to that reality,” Rubio added.

Sanders, who has diversified his base since his failed 2016 White House run, is showing up as a boogeyman for Republicans looking to defeat Democrats up and down the ballot.

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Steve Guest, the Republican National Committee’s rapid response director, argued on Monday that Sanders’s ideas are a “danger to America and to our way of life.”

“Good luck Democrats who may try and distance themselves from Sanders’s praise of communist dictators,” he added.

Sanders caused a headache for Florida Democrats on Monday when the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) seized on remarks about Cuba he made the night before on “60 Minutes,” saying that “it’s unfair to simply say everything is bad” just because it is associated with Fidel Castro.

In two separate email blasts by the NRCC, the group questioned if Florida Reps. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaExclusive: Democrats seek to increase racial diversity of pandemic relief oversight board The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Fred Upton says it is 'tragic' to see Americans reject masks, social distancing; Russia claims it will approve COVID-19 vaccine by mid-August The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former HHS Secretary Sebelius gives Trump administration a D in handling pandemic; Oxford, AstraZeneca report positive dual immunity results from early vaccine trial MORE (D) and Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyLawmakers weigh in on role of private equity firms in economic recovery The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Coronavirus relief negotiations underway with lawmakers back in Washington The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided GOP to unveil COVID-19 bill MORE (D) would support a “Castro fanboy.” Both have disavowed Sanders’s comments.

“Does this mean Stephanie Murphy will refuse to support Sanders when he is the nominee? Or will she upset her socialist base instead?” asked Camille Gallo, a spokeswoman for the NRCC.

A GOP strategist pledged that Republicans would use Sanders as an anchor to pull down Democratic Senate hopefuls.

“Right now, Bernie is their front-runner, and socialism doesn’t sell in the Atlanta suburbs, in their Charlotte suburbs and in the Phoenix suburbs,” the GOP strategist said, referring to the Senate races in Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona.  

Sanders, who supports free college education and “Medicare for All,” is already being name-dropped in key Senate races as Republicans try to activate their base. While most of the 24 Senate seats the GOP is defending are in safe Republican states, a handful of key toss-up races are expected to make or break the GOP efforts to hold onto the majority.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe US military has options against China McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill Group of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers MORE (R-Colo.), appearing with Trump at a Colorado rally last week, pledged that Republicans would fight “socialism.”

“There was a dangerous thing that happened in 2016. It was the normalization of socialism by Bernie Sanders,” he said.

Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyHillicon Valley: Facebook bans ads from pro-Trump PAC | Uber reports big drop in revenue | US offers M reward for election interference info Senate passes legislation to ban TikTok on federal devices McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-Ariz.) recently called former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is likely to be her Democratic opponent, the “the 51st vote for all of Bernie’s wildest Soviet-style fantasies.”

McSally is running for the final two years of the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCNN's Ana Navarro to host Biden roundtable on making 'Trump a one-term president' Mark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Prominent conservatives question Jerry Falwell Jr. vacation photo MORE’s (R) term. Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), has distanced himself from the tag, noting that he’s a “capitalist.”

Former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe 'pitcher of warm spit' — Veepstakes and the fate of Mike Pence FBI officials hid copies of Russia probe documents fearing Trump interference: book Tuberville breaks DC self-quarantine policy to campaign MORE, who is trying to reclaim his old Senate seat in Alabama, sent out a fundraising blast earlier this month after Sanders won New Hampshire, warning about the spread of “socialism.”

“I know Bernie Sanders well. I confronted his extreme ideas and spending policies for years on the Senate Budget committee where we both served. I went toe to toe many times with him. I was the leading opponent of these extreme ideas on the committee,” he said in the email to supporters.

Republicans have worked for months to make the 2020 election a referendum on “socialism.” It’s a narrative they think is a good fit for Sanders.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found that 31 percent of adults say they would be less likely to support Sanders if he was labeled as a democratic socialist and 38 percent said so when labeled as a socialist.

Even as Republicans have worked overtime to make Sanders the face of the Democratic Party, there are a slew of warning signs against underestimating the 78-year-old’s potential strength as a general election candidate.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll found Sanders leading Trump in a potential head-to-head match-up, similar to several of the Democratic candidates.

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It also found that 30 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters believe Sanders is the best choice to beat Trump — the highest percentage for anyone in the still-crowded 2020 primary field.

Sen. Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottLobbyists see wins, losses in GOP coronavirus bill Revered civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis lies in state in the Capitol GOP plan would boost deduction for business meals MORE (R-S.C.) warned during an interview with “CBS This Morning” that he thought Sanders is Trump’s most difficult potential opponent.

“I would say that the biggest threat to President Trump is President Trump. ... If there is a second choice other than himself it would be Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders brings that outside game in a similar fashion that President Trump did in 2016,” Scott said Monday.