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Is Sanders the Next McGovern? Or Goldwater?

Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses crowd in Myrtle Beach, SC

As Sen. Bernie Sanders surges in the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, many centrist Democrats are worried that the nomination of the avowed socialist-democrat will all but guarantee the re-election of President Donald Trump and doom down-ballot candidates across the nation.

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For some the specter of past election wipeouts of perceived extremist candidates -- Barry Goldwater at the hands of LBJ and George McGovern by Tricky Dick -- is a growing worry as Trump and his Republican supporters jump on Sanders' socialist label with plans to use it against all Democratic candidates on the November 3 ballot.

Those concerns have intensified since the Las Vegas debate Feb. 19, when insurgent former Republican Mike Bloomberg, the gazillionnaire ex-mayor of New York City, even labeled Sanders a communist. A murmur rippled through the crowd when he said that word. Bloomberg's performance was so awful that some pundits on Fox News the next day were speculating that his candidacy might already be finished.

But despite Sanders' growing popularity with his Medicare-for-all proposal and his constant attacks against big corporations and the wealthy one-percent, perhaps it is fair to look back at history for a dose of reality.

Broadly put, Sanders can be described as an extremist -- about as far left as you can get. While his proposals have appeal to his loyal followers, especially young voters, many would be hugely expensive -- such as his national healthcare plan -- and he hasn't exactly been forthcoming about the tax implications for middle income Americans.

Over the past nearly 60 years, extremist candidates -- either ultra-conservative or ultra-liberal -- have not done well in presidential elections, to say the least.

The Goldwater Trouncing

In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had come into office less than a year earlier after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, won the sixth-most lopsided presidential election victory in the nation's history by defeating far-right Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

While Johnson was riding a wave of emotional good will following the Kennedy tragedy, he successfully painted Goldwater as a far right-winger who wanted to abolish social programs such as Social Security. LBJ carried 44 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a 22.6 percent popular vote margin.

After that victory, with a solid mandate from the electorate, LBJ engineered the passage of Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty -- programs that Republicans blame today for the nation's skyrocketing federal debt while they enjoy the gravy train of massively expensive Trump's tax cuts.

The McGovern Fiasco

In the 1972 election, President Richard M. Nixon walloped his Democratic opponent, Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota by 23 points, painting him as a left-wing liberal who wanted to withdraw U.S. forces from Southeast Asia and weaken the nation's national defense.

McGovern in front of campaign sign
Sen. George McGovern

It's also important to understand that when Nixon defeated McGovern he was riding high with a booming economy, just as Trump is doing -- as he reminds us nearly every day.

And Now...

With Sanders riding high, pro-Trump candidates are planning to turn every Democrat into a "Bernie Bro", confident that he is their ticket to a November election sweep.

The Republican-leaning Washington Examiner reports that Republican Sen.

Martha McSally of Arizona is running TV ads calling Democratic challenger Mark Kelly a "Bernie Bro," a label that apparently is catching on.

Earlier, on February 1, the New York Post reported that Sanders' nomination could cause many "never Bernie" voters to stay at home or even defect to Trump. If that happens, it's all over for the Democrats in 2020. Republicans could even regain control of the House of Representatives.

The Post reported a Bloomberg insider said this: “I think that there is a very real ‘Never Bernie’ sentiment amongst both the donor class and moderate, centrist Democrats, or what I would call regular Democrats. Bloomberg and Pete [Buttigieg] and [Joe] Biden, who represent the heart and soul of the party — their supporters are not as apt to support someone like Bernie.”

Of course you've got to consider the source with that one, as Bloomberg hopes to emerge as the moderate alternative to Sanders.

Nevertheless, while "Vote Blue No Matter Who" is the mantra of many Democrats nationwide in this era of Donald Trump, history tells us that presidential candidates considered extreme -- on one side or another -- have a difficult time winning broad support of the electorate at large.

Just some food for thought.

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