Republicans Are Trying to Use Bernie Sanders to Undermine Hillary Clinton

While Clinton appears poised to win the Democratic nomination, conservatives are still pushing Sanders as a possible contender to help their own cause.
February 28, 2016, 6:35pm
Imagen por Jacquelyn Martin/AP

What do democratic socialists and right-wing conservatives have in common in 2016? They both want Bernie Sanders to win his party's presidential nomination, even if the likelihood of that outcome is diminishing by day.

Sanders, a 74-year-old senator from Vermont, has surprised pundits on both the left and right with his insurgent campaign. In recent weeks, conservatives have been as enthusiastic about touting Sanders as they have been about vilifying his rival Hillary Clinton, who last night swept the South Carolina Democratic primary with more than 73 percent of the vote.

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This week on the campaign trail, Republican presidential contenders and their surrogates separately complimented Sanders at events held within 30 hours of the Nevada GOP caucuses on Wednesday evening. Three days earlier, Sanders lost the Democratic caucuses in the Silver State, but conservatives appeared to appreciate his populist appeal during their stump speeches, and are still hoping the senator can capture just enough support from Clinton to hurt the frontrunner in a general election against the ultimate GOP nominee.

After the Democratic caucuses in Nevada, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus released a statement that referenced Sanders undermining Clinton.

Related: Cornel West Says Civil Rights Leaders That Support Hillary Clinton Have Lost Their Way

"A prolonged nominating contest where Hillary Clinton is forced to outflank a self-avowed socialist will only make it easier for Republicans to recapture the White House," Priebus said.

At a small Ted Cruz event at a northern Las Vegas YMCA the day before the Nevada caucus, two speakers who spoke ahead of Cruz both nodded toward the Sanders campaign. Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck gave a particularly meandering, sermon-like spiel to open the event. At one point, when Beck remarked that Sanders was right to push for equal justice, many in the audience appeared to be perplexed. Later, the crowd relaxed into nervous laughter when Beck finally said he did not agree with Sanders's plan to fix the country.

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"Bernie Sanders is connecting with a lot of people because he has diagnosed the problem," Beck said. "His solution is poppycock, but what he says is the problem is exactly right. When they talk about fairness what they're really saying to America is equal justice.

"I want to know that if I'm at the bottom of the ladder, I have the same chance to make it as the guy at the top of the ladder," he added.

Cruz's second speaker, Adam Laxalt, Nevada's attorney general, recognized that "even Bernie Sanders is tapping that same sentiment" of anti-establishment politics. That sentiment has helped propel frontrunner Donald Trump to win three of four early voting states in Republican contests.

Related: Some Americans Are Seriously Considering Moving to an Island in Canada If Trump Wins

The next morning, at a rally at the Silverton Casino in Las Vegas, GOP establishment favorite Marco Rubio told a crowd that he'd rather be a socialist like Sanders than under FBI Investigation like Clinton, referring to the bureau's inquiry into the email setup that Clinton used during her tenure as secretary of state. Questions about Clinton's emails, which are being made public as part of a VICE News Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, have dogged her 2016 campaign.

Positive publicity about Sanders has also come directly from the RNC itself, which has been sending out lengthy emails linking to news stories that undercut Clinton and suggest Sanders is the more popular choice. Some include articles that put Sanders neck and neck or ahead of Clinton in polls, while others focus on the senator criticizing his rival's positions, or his ability to draw huge crowds to rallies.

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The RNC told VICE News that while it had redirected its Joe Biden task force to Bernie Sanders after the vice president took his name out of contention, the party is still focusing the majority of its resources for opposition research on Clinton. However, the party remains hesitant to outwardly put all their faith on a run against Clinton.

"We are not presuming anything. That was the lesson of 2008," said RNC spokesman Michael Short, referring to Clinton's primary loss to upstart candidate Barack Obama. "We are doing our due diligence and will be prepared for either scenario."

Related: Clinton Claims Decisive Victory Over Sanders in South Carolina

On the other side of the coin, American Bridge, a pro-Clinton liberal super-PAC, which conducts opposition research on Republicans, has seemed to focus its efforts of late on Rubio, despite the growing tide of support for Trump. Shortly after Rubio tanked in a GOP debate in New Hampshire in early February, American Bridge launched its "Marcobot" campaign, which involved deploying protesters dressed as robots to follow Rubio around as he stumped. That campaign remains on the front page of the group's website today.

Even after Sanders's decisive loss to Clinton in South Carolina Saturday, the RNC is aware that the longer the senator stays in the race, the more opportunity he has to undercut Clinton's support base in the lead up to the Democratic National Convention in July. Undoubtedly, both Republicans and the Sanders campaign will use that to their advantage until party nominees are crowned this summer.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields