President Trump is right. Watching Bernie Sanders on Fox News was kind of weird.
It was also kind of wonderful to see a cranky, wizened Democratic socialist set up an alternative political universe behind enemy lines.
Although Sanders signed a loyalty pledge saying he will run for president as a Democrat in 2020, he’s an outsider. That’s why he understands what too many sanctimonious Democrats do not: the need to break out of the Rachel Maddow bubble. As polarized as this country is, some voters still respect a politician who crosses into hostile territory and tells them what they don’t want to hear. Experts will say that’s not where primary votes are. But experts have been wrong before, haven’t they?
The Sanders town hall, moderated by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, drew nearly 2.6 million viewers. It was the most watched 2020 candidate town hall to date, leading other Democrats to consider the unthinkable — a date with Fox.
It also shows the foolishness of the decision by the Democratic National Committee to ban Fox from hosting one of its sanctioned primary debates, because the network is “too close” to Trump. If you are trying to expand your universe of voters, why is that a negative? If Democrats keep preaching only to their own smug choir, they will get what they deserve — four more years of Trump. And if they cede Fox country to Sanders, they may get what they also fear: a Trump-Sanders showdown. One egomaniacal septuagenarian taking on another.
Trump whined that his supporters were kept out of the town hall audience and that’s why Sanders got a warm reception. Trump’s bigger concern should be the vast audience of regular Fox viewers who got to hear a progressive message on health care and taxes, delivered with unfiltered Bernie-style bluster. Sanders’ critics argue that his newly minted millionaire status runs up against his basic socialist philosophy. It’s a false argument. As he told the town hall, he isn’t against financial success. He just believes those who “have a whole lot of money . . . should pay their fair share of money.” And that includes him.
“I paid the taxes I owe,” said Sanders, who added, “And by the way, why don’t you get Donald Trump up here and ask him how much he pays in taxes?” How often do you hear that on Fox?
He also offered a nonthreatening definition of democratic socialism; to him, it means “creating a government, economy, and society that works for all, not just the 1 percent.”
Asked if, at 77, he’s too old to run for president, Sanders called it a fair question. But, he said, “at the end of the day, it’s not whether you are young or old. It is what you believe in.”
On the matter of whether Democrats are running too far left, Sanders said what really upsets him is “a president who is a pathological liar.” You don’t hear that a lot on Fox either. But he also said that if Democrats spend all their time attacking Trump, they will lose. They have to “lay out an agenda that makes sense to working families.”
The town hall response to a question about Medicare for all got much of the media attention. At one point, Baier asked how many get private health insurance “from work.” What looked like a majority raised their hands. Then he asked how many would be “willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system.” The same number seemed to raise their hands. During the exchange, Sanders acknowledged that taxes would go up to pay for a government-run health care system, but argued health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-payments would go down.
You don’t win any deep ideological battle in one town hall. But Sanders had the gumption to take the fight directly to the other side. What’s really weird? That it’s considered weird.Joan Vennochi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.