INDIANAPOLIS — Bernie Sanders is rising, and conventional wisdom is that a Democratic nomination of the Vermont Democratic socialist will play right into President Trump’s reelection wheelhouse. But look back to the faint echoes of 2016 here in the Hoosier State, and polling this week from Morning Consult injects doubt into that conventional wisdom.
Sanders catapulted into the Iowa caucus lead in a Des Moines Register/CNN poll with 20% last week. In a Monmouth New Hampshire Poll, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg had the lead at 20%, with Joe Biden at 19%, Sanders at 18% and Elizabeth Warren at 15%.
In that 2016 Indiana primary, both Trump and Sanders were the anti-establishment candidates. Both drew yuuuuge crowds, with Sanders filling Monument Circle with 10,000 followers on primary election eve. Both won their Indiana primary with 53% of the vote and with virtually no support from their party leaders, fueled by stump rhetoric complaining of a “rigged system.”
Hoosier Republicans eventually warmed up to Trump after he selected Gov. Mike Pence for his ticket in July. When the INGOP put its original Republican National Convention slate together before Pence’s ascension, delegates Rex Early and Sullivan County’s Bill Springer were the only two Trump delegates. Since Pence was added to the ticket, Indiana has become a “Trump state.”
As for Sanders, there has been no discernible Sanders presence on the calcified Indiana Democratic Central Committee. Here was HoweY Politics Indiana;s take on Sanders in the May 5, 2016, edition: “I watched Bernie Sanders indict the current economic and political status quo in front of about 10,000 people on Monument Circle last night. His campaign has raised more than $100 million in small donations, is not beholden to super PACs and special interests, and is promising a ‘revolution’ that the broader public appears to be embracing. The $7 billion in profits by United Technologies, and its move to Mexico to save $65 million while abandoning a city it called home for six decades, has become the poster for middle class angst. Sanders conjures notions of $100 million golden parachutes for departing executives, and an extreme bent for shareholder profits over any scraps for the middle and lower classes that resonates in a different prism than the one Trump presents. But Sanders and Trump are clearly feeding off the same energy.”
Trump appears to be savoring a Democratic nomination by Sanders, who he will portray as a “socialist,” but if there’s a case of socialism encroaching on the state, look no further than the farm, where President Trump’s $14.5 billion Market Facilitation Program created about 40% of agricultural profits in 2019. The farm bailout is twice the size of President Obama’s 2009 rescue of the domestic automakers, which was opposed by then-U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, who urged those manufacturers to recover via traditional bankruptcy.
Trump is beginning to fixate on Sanders, saying at a MAGA rally in Toledo, “Bernie is going up. He’s surging. Crazy Bernie is surging. Bernie Sanders — crazy Bernie! — has condemned the U.S. military strike on Soleimani, the world’s top terrorist.”
Therein lie other similarities between Trump and Sanders. Both have been persistent critics of the 2002 Iran War Resolution and 2003 invasion, the biggest geopolitical disaster for the U.S. since Vietnam. Except then U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders voted against the resolution, while when Trump was asked by shock jock Howard Stern if he backed the war, he responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” Then Rep. Pence voted for that resolution.
Jim Messina, who managed former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection bid, said in a recent Politico interview that Trump would love to run against Sanders, noting that Republicans have already signaled they plan to hammer the socialism angle in the fall campaign.
But a new Morning Consult poll tracking the strength of the top Democratic contenders against Trump in hypothetical matchups found Sanders performs better than his rivals, including Biden, with groups viewed as key to beating the unpopular incumbent.
Sanders leads Trump in the latest head-to-head polling 46% to 42%, picking up 2 percentage points on the incumbent Republican since the previous survey and statistically tied with Biden, who leads Trump 46% to 41%.
Sanders outperforms Biden against Trump among voters ages 18-29, those who are not interested in politics and self-described independents. Biden is the strongest candidate among college-educated whites, older people and suburban white women.
Could Sanders carry Indiana in the primary and/or general elections? Buttigieg has had virtually no statewide presence, beyond the handful of mayors (but not Mayors Joe Hogsett of Indianapolis, Tom Henry of Fort Wayne or Tom McDermott of Hammond) who have endorsed him. Perhaps the biggest strike against Buttigieg making the ticket is that he would be no cinch to carry his home state.
Conventional wisdom is that the state is a lock for the Trump/Pence reelection bid, but the We Ask American Poll for the Indiana Manufacturers Association had Trump’s job approval at 47.4% favorable while 47.7% disapproved, well below his 19% plurality in 2016.
A Trump vs. Sanders showdown this fall would find these two candidates offering up similar rhetoric and feeding off the same grievances.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.