Conservatives' Bernie Sanders lovefest: Why the right has the hots for a prickly socialist

Some Republicans are lapping up news of a Sanders surge -- all the better to ding Hillary Clinton

Published July 9, 2015 4:58PM (EDT)

  (AP/John Locher)
(AP/John Locher)

Republicans for Bernie Sanders? Crazier things have happened in American politics. With the Vermont Senator seeing a rise in Democratic primary polls and growing national media attention, some Republicans are beginning to take notice of the self described democratic socialist.

There is a sub-reddit that asks, "Is it a good thing for conservatives that Bernie Sanders is running for president?" Top Romney strategist, Stuart Stevens, tweeted in early June his prediction that Sanders would beat Clinton in Iowa or New Hampshire and wrote in the Daily Beast, "Bernie Sanders will never be president. But unless Hillary changes her strategy – and soon – he can still wind up toppling her." Did I mention he worked for Romney's 2012 campaign?

In any case, much of the conservative talk of Sanders centers around a supposed common enemy -- Hillary Clinton. At the conservative American Thinker, one writer said of the Sanders surge, "That sound you hear is Hillary Clinton supporters whistling past the graveyard," while another wrote "Bernie Sanders sends a chilling message to Hillary campaign."

Some conservatives have even taken to suggesting that Sanders' rhetoric is popular because it's similar to Republicans' as one conservative commentator wrote in a blog post titled, "Bernie Sanders Says Conservatives Are Right About Unemployment!":

Conservatives have been saying for years that the real unemployment is way higher than 5.5 or 5.3 percent. Why? Well, a few reasons, the biggest being that more people have simply dropped out of the workforce. It’s not that unemployment is down, it’s that fewer people are even attempting to look for work at all. You can’t fail at something you never even attempt.

Everybody ignored the conservatives and tried to pretend they didn’t exist…

Well, that becomes a little harder, when Bernie Sanders comes out saying the exact same thing. Yes, that Bernie Sanders.


Still, thanks Bernie for proving Conservatives right about unemployment. You’re a real pal. Now go find a damn comb.

Here is another conservative blog making the same point as well as the conservative Washington Free Beacon. Don't worry, Tucker Carlson's The Daily Caller is on it too. Evidently, pointing to the underemployed is the same thing as suggesting that the federal government "cooked the books" on the unemployment numbers to some conservatives.

Sanders is also gaining conservative applause for his record on gun control. Independent Journal Review, by far one of the most popular online destinations for conservatives, heralded Sanders as "a Democratic presidential candidate standing up for rural America on gun control," writing that "despite his low NRA score, he seems to get it."

Writing in The Week, one conservative writer argued that conservatives should welcome Sanders to the 2016 race, applauding his commitment to ideas and pointing out that "Sanders has historically been very friendly to an expansive reading of the Second Amendment." The author also oddly citied Sanders' 1972 run for governor of Vermont as the Liberty Union party nominee as further proof of common conservative ground:

My favorite Sanders view (since abandoned) came in his very early years in politics. Sanders was enough of a radical that he could demand the abolition of compulsory schooling, writing that it will "crush the spirits of our children." The radical anti-establishment stance on education has migrated to the religious right, and to the un-schooling left. But I hope that Sanders re-embraces it during the campaign in one great YOLO gesture.

But even after lauding Sanders for holding out ideas, albeit conservative ones, the post ended with the most commonly cited conservative reason to cheer for Sanders' run -- he's willingness to put up a fight against Hillary Clinton:

My hope for Sen. Sanders is that he connects his ideas to a vigorous political campaign against Hillary Clinton. Clinton is the conflict-of-interest candidate. Sanders is the candidate who is at conflict with vested interests. I pray he gives us the interest of actual political conflict, too.

But not all conservatives are smitten with Sanders. Far-right conspiracy site, Info Wars, warned that although Sanders was a tempting contrast to fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he "is relying on the same old tired socialist message, one destined to make certain real substantial change does not occur if he becomes president":

On the million to one chance Bernie is elected, he will certainly not sweep Congress free of the career politicians who enable crony capitalism and do the work of their corporatist partners. Corporate socialism, special tax privileges, favoritism and state intervention in the economy will not simply dry up and blow away.

Like the Occupy movement, the Bernie movement knows the system is dysfunctional and places the blame rightly on Wall Street and the bankers. The movement, however, does not possess an effective solution for turning things around. Unfortunately, the Bernie movement portrays the real producers of wealth — the small to medium business person who may in fact be a millionaire — as the villains.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Elections Bernie Sanders Conservatives Hillary Clinton