Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders offered up his version of “democratic socialism” in a speech Wednesday, tying his campaign to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., saying his brand of socialism is the path to beating incumbent President Donald Trump.
“It’s going to provoke, I know, a fierce debate. I eagerly look forward to President Trump’s tweets.”
Trailing former Vice President Joe Biden and quickly losing ground to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sanders sought to cast himself in direct opposition to Trump, attacking what he called “corporate socialism” practiced by the president and his Republican Party.
Sanders claimed his version of socialism lifted Roosevelt to victory and has helped propel himself to where he is today, vying for the Democratic nomination for a second time.
“Let me be clear, I do understand that I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word ‘socialism’ as a slur,” he said, “but I should also tell you that I have faced and overcome these attacks for decades, and I am not the only one.”
Sanders presented his brand of socialism as seeking a path to “economic rights,” harkening back to Roosevelt and King, saying his ideology is embodied in some of America’s most popular social safety nets, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He also took indirect shots at Trump, saying the U.S. must reject the path of hatred and divisiveness, and must “instead find the moral conviction to choose a different path, a higher path, a path of compassion, justice and love. And that is the path that I call democratic socialism.”
Sanders also went at Trump directly, mentioning his name eight times and casting himself much like Biden, who has portrayed himself as being in a direct showdown with the president. Trump “believes in corporate socialism for the rich and powerful. I believe in a democratic socialism that works for the working families of this country,” Sanders said.
Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also said he looks forward to a one-on-one debate about his agenda and policies even before he wins the Democratic party’s nomination.
“It’s going to provoke, I know, a fierce debate,” Sanders said. “I eagerly look forward to President Trump’s tweets.”
Trump has yet to tweet a response as of Thursday morning.
Just before Sanders delivered his speech, a Monmouth University poll said Warren had overtaken him in Nevada, a key state, with 19% of the vote compared to Sanders’ 13%. Biden leads them all in Nevada with 36%. A Des Moines Register/CNN poll over the weekend shows Sanders also has lost a lot of ground to Warren over the past three months in Iowa, with Warren surging within a point alongside Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The rise of Warren presents a particular problem for Sanders as the two share a lot of the same principles, values and policies that target many of the same voters.
“The speech is a pretty clear indication he is feeling the heat from Elizabeth Warren’s recent momentum among progressive voters, and recognizes that if he doesn’t do something dramatic she will overtake him,” former White House Communications Director Jen Psaki told the New York Times. “It is his attempt to reclaim the anti-capitalist mantle he ran on in 2016.”
In his speech, Sanders called for a “21st-century economic Bill of Rights” that would address health care (Medicare for All), income inequality, education, affordable housing, the environment and retirement. He also touted a record of putting policies forward, much like Warren, who has seemingly thrown out a new policy each week.
“Over the course of this election my campaign has been releasing — and will continue to release — detailed proposals addressing each of these yet-to-be-realized economic rights,” Sanders said.
However, Sanders has an uphill battle selling his brand (or any brand) of socialism, and experts say his speech likely only appealed to his base and wouldn’t necessarily bring anyone new into the fold, while also giving new ammunition to Trump.
“Most Democrats running don’t subscribe to Bernie Sanders’s democratic socialism and his economic policies,” Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh told the New York Times. “Ultimately, Bernie Sanders giving this speech will appeal to his base and no one else, and it gives fodder to Trump and the Republicans.”
Editor’s note: Trump would presumably love to campaign directly against Sanders and his brand of “democratic socialism.” Who would you most like to see Trump take on in the 2020 election? Who do you think has the best chance of beating him? Share your thoughts below.