The Bernie Bros are com­ing to the Repub­li­cans’ res­cue

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MILBANK Twit­ter: @Milbank

Things could go well for the Democrats in next year’s midterm elec­tions — if they don’t Bern out. Pres­i­dent Trump is woe­fully un­pop­u­lar, feud­ing with Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell (Ky.) and other Repub­li­cans. The GOP can’t man­age to re­peal Oba­macare or do much of any­thing. Vot­ers say they’d like Democrats to run Congress.

But here come the Bernie Bros and sis­ters to the Repub­li­cans’ res­cue: They’re sow­ing di­vi­sion in the Demo­cratic Party and at­tempt­ing to en­act a purge of the ide­o­log­i­cally im­pure — just the sort of thing that made the Repub­li­can Party the un­govern­able mess it is to­day.

Bernie San­ders’s ad­vis­ers are pro­mot­ing a “lit­mus test” un­der which Democrats who don’t swear to im­ple­ment sin­gle-payer health care would be booted from the party in pri­maries. San­ders poll­ster Ben Tulchin penned an op-ed with a col­league un­der the head­line “Uni­ver­sal health care is the new lit­mus test for Democrats.” Nina Turner, head of the San­ders group Our Revo­lu­tion, told Politico last week that “there’s some­thing wrong with” Democrats who won’t “un­equiv­o­cally” em­brace “Medi­care-for-all.”

That no­tion — not just tak­ing a stand but ex­com­mu­ni­cat­ing all who dis­agree — is what Repub­li­cans have done to them­selves with guns and taxes, and it would se­ri­ously di­min­ish Democrats’ hopes of re­tak­ing the House next year.

At the same time, Our Revo­lu­tion has stepped up its at­tack on the Demo­cratic Party. Turner last week sent an email to sup­port­ers com­plain­ing that she and oth­ers at­tempted to de­liver a pe­ti­tion to Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters but “were shut out.” In a fol­low-up in­ter­view with Buz­zFeed, Turner ex­pressed par­tic­u­lar out­rage that the DNC of­fered her . . . donuts. “They tried to se­duce us with donuts,” she said, call­ing the ges­ture “pompous” and “ar­ro­gant” and “in­sult­ing.”

It’s not just about break­fast con­fec­tions. The Bernie crowd has be­gun ac­cus­ing fresh­man Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris (Calif.), a ris­ing Demo­cratic star, of be­ing be­holden to cor­po­rate money. Also in Cal­i­for­nia, Kim­berly El­lis, who ran for state Demo­cratic chair­man with the sup­port of San­ders and lost in a close race to a for­mer Hil­lary Clin­ton del­e­gate, is re­fus­ing to con­cede and threat­en­ing to sue. El­lis told Adam Nagour­ney of the New York Times that the “Demo­cratic Party is in many ways right now where the Repub­li­can Party was when the tea party took over.”

And that’s a good thing? Repub­li­can frat­ri­cide, in­sti­gated by tea-party pu­rity po­lice, made Trump pos­si­ble and left the GOP un­able to gov­ern. This is what San­ders’s peo­ple would em­u­late.

For­tu­nately, San­ders seems to have lost clout. Can­di­dates backed by Our Revo­lu­tion have lost 31 races in 2017 and won 16 — and the vic­to­ries in­clude “Port­land Com­mu­nity Col­lege Di­rec­tor, Zone 5” and “South Ful­ton (Ga.) City Coun­cil 6.”

Can­di­dates en­dorsed by San­ders have strug­gled in high-pro­file races. Rep. Keith El­li­son (D-Minn.) lost the DNC chair­man race (he was ap­pointed deputy chair­man). San­ders-backed Tom Per­riello lost the Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­mary in Vir­ginia, and a San­ders cam­paign of­fi­cial was blown out in a Cal­i­for­nia con­gres­sional pri­mary. Nei­ther did the San­ders magic get the job done for Democrats in spe­cial con­gres­sional elec­tions in Kansas, Ge­or­gia or Mon­tana, and his can­di­date lost the Omaha may­oral race.

Yet the at­tempt by the San­ders move­ment to im­pose a health-care lit­mus test on Demo­cratic can­di­dates shows its de­struc­tive po­ten­tial within the party. Sup­port for sin­gle-payer health cov­er­age has been grow­ing, and it would be­come a real pos­si­bil­ity if Repub­li­cans sab­o­tage Oba­macare but don’t help the tens of mil­lions who would lose in­sur­ance.

But to force Democrats to take some kind of sin­gle-payer pu­rity oath would set back the cause. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to take con­trol of the House, yet there are only 23 Repub­li­cans in dis­tricts won by Clin­ton — and only eight of those were won by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2012. There are a dozen Democrats in dis­tricts Trump won. In such swing dis­tricts, it would be sui­ci­dal to pledge sup­port for some­thing Repub­li­cans will brand as so­cial­ism.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll in June found that while a ma­jor­ity of Democrats (52 per­cent) fa­vor sin­gle-payer health care, only 33 per­cent of the pub­lic does over­all. A Kaiser Health Track­ing poll in June had bet­ter re­sults: 53 per­cent of the pub­lic fa­vored sin­gle-payer cov­er­age. But Kaiser found that opin­ions were “mal­leable,” and that if, for ex­am­ple, re­spon­dents heard sin­gle-payer cov­er­age would in­crease taxes, a ma­jor­ity op­posed it. Also, midterm vot­ers are older, and that group is hos­tile to “Medi­care for All.”

If re­cent trends con­tinue, and par­tic­u­larly if Repub­li­cans un­der­mine Oba­macare with­out an ad­e­quate re­place­ment, the time for sin­gle-payer will come, and soon. But the lit­mus test dis­tracts Democrats from pro­tect­ing Oba­macare, di­min­ishes their chances of re­tak­ing the House and chops up the party over some­thing that has zero chance of be­com­ing law un­der Trump.

That Berns.

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