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Peyser writes: "Sanders's weekend tour, which had the hectic feel of the campaign trail, was just as much about pushing back against the Republican tax plan as it was about looking ahead, presenting voters with a platform that extended beyond, in Sanders's words, merely 'saying no to Trump.'"

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Getty)

How Bernie Is Working to Win Over Voters in "Trump Country"

By Eve Peyser, VICE

07 December 17

I followed Bernie Sanders as he went to Ohio and explained to crowds how Democrats could win back Trump voters.

y the time I got to interview Bernie Sanders, he was very tired, and honestly so was I—not that I could really complain. The Vermont senator had spent the wee hours of Saturday morning on the Senate floor watching his Republican colleagues pass a tax bill that Sanders called "the biggest act of thievery in the modern history of this country." After sleeping only two hours, Sanders hopped on a flight to Dayton, Ohio, to speak at the first rally of the day. It was part of his weekend-long "Protect Working Families" tour, organized by progressive organizations MoveOn and Not One Penny. He then journeyed to Akron to speak at another rally and got back to the hotel around 11 PM Sunday, where he got in a little shuteye before sitting down for our interview the next morning for breakfast with his staff.

Sanders ordered a single English muffin, lightly patting his belly as he remarked to the table, "I've been eating too much lately." In an hour, the 76-year-old was flying to Philadelphia, then going to Reading, Pennsylvania (in a county Trump won by 18,000 votes), where he would deliver his final speech of the weekend.

I began the interview by summarizing the past two days before asking, "So, uh, how do you do it?" He burst into a long, hearty laugh, bringing some energy to a table full of tired people who (him included) hadn't even had their coffee yet. "You know, I got a job to do, and I do it," he said matter-of-factly. "We believed the bill was going to be voted on Thursday night, and that’s why we arranged for Louisville on Friday evening and Ohio on Saturday and Philadelphia on Sunday... When I make a commitment, I like to keep it, and we had a very good turnout in Louisville and thought we would in Ohio, so I felt it was important to keep that commitment, so I got up early, and we did it."

Sanders's weekend tour, which had the hectic feel of the campaign trail, was just as much about pushing back against the Republican tax plan as it was about looking ahead, presenting voters with a platform that extended beyond, in Sanders's words, merely "saying no to Trump." He advocated for the policies that are familiar to anyone who followed the 2016 campaign: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding Medicare to cover everyone, raising taxes on the wealthy, expanding Social Security, switching to clean energy, ending mass incarceration (which he pointed out disproportionately affects people of color), closing the gender pay gap, and standing with immigrants.

What was new, however, was Sanders's emphasis on extending compassion to working-class Trump voters. The three states on his tour all went for Trump in 2016, and it seems likely that Democrats will have to take back at least Pennsylvania, and possibly Ohio, to win in 2020. After the Akron audience booed when he mentioned Trump voters, he said, "Let's not boo anybody. Maybe except Trump." (He was completely OK with the crowd booing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, however.)

"The reason [Trump] won Ohio and many other states in this country... [is that] there are millions of people who are hurting," Sanders told the crowd, before emphasizing that Trump campaigned on bald-faced lies—but, hey, we've all been tricked before. In my interview with him the next day, he elaborated on why it's so important to him to address Trump voters with compassion.

"It is clear that there is an element of Trump supporters who are racists, sexists, homophobes, and there’s nothing I’m going to say that’s going to appeal to them," he said. "But I think that the vast majority of Trump supporters are people who are in pain, who are struggling economically, who are worried to death that their kids are going to be in even worse shape economically than they are, and they turned to Trump because Trump said things that made sense. He said he was going to take on the establishment, and he was going to provide healthcare to everybody. You know what, it’s pretty much what I said."

The difference, of course, is that Sanders seems to have a plan to provide benefits like health insurance to large swathes of Americans. The question—which may not be answered until 2020—is whether Trump spoke to those voters because of his vague populist promises or because of his willingness to embrace the nastiest aspects of the culture war.

Sanders, evidently, thinks that it's the former. He has obvious compassion for subsection of Trump supporters, an undeniably practical perspective to have—while some on the left might be giddy about writing off the 62,979,879 Americans who voted for the guy, Sanders wants to win them over with his populist, anti-elitist platform.

“We are winning the fight for the future of America," he told the audience in Dayton. "Please never forget we’re the vast majority of the American people.”

It was a necessary reframing, at least for me. After I half-woke up at 5 AM Saturday morning, I made the critical error of checking my phone for the time, where I was rudely flooded with a slew of notifications informing me the tax reform bill had passed the Senate, something I assumed would happen when I fell asleep the night before. The magnitude of the whole thing hit me extra hard so early in the morning, and I went down a rabbit hole of despair I have learned to largely avoid as someone who writes about politics for a living.

The tax bill the Senate passed stands to disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans, lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, repeals the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, and would likely increase the national debt by $1 trillion over ten years. (It's not clear how closely the final bill passed by Congress as a whole will be to the Senate version.) The bill was unpopular, and the vast majority of economists said that it wouldn't grow the economy the way Republicans claimed. It was rushed through the Senate so sloppily that revisions were written in the margins of the bill's text. This seemed to be evidence that no matter what the left did, no matter what the American people wanted—only about a third of Americans are in favor of the bill, according to a recent poll—the right, funded by Koch brothers and other billionaires, would be able to advance a radical agenda.

But as Bernie addressed the crowded theater of 1,300 in Dayton, proclaiming, "This is class warfare, and we're gonna stand up and fight!" I was like, OK, maybe we're not completely doomed. It's rare you hear any senator talk about the extremism of the GOP as "class warfare," never mind calling his Republican colleagues "employees" of the Kochs.

I might've felt exhausted by the GOP's unabashed greed, but the crowds at the Sanders's rallies were bursting with energy. At each rally, activists from the surrounding areas spoke before Bernie. In Dayton, Portia Boulger, a Sanders delegate from Appalachia who self-identified as a "Bernie bro," bellowed, "Power to the people! No justice no peace!... We will not yield!" to uproarious applause from the audience, many of whom were supporting Bernie gear.

During his Dayton speech, Sanders warned that in the coming months, Republicans might suggest cutting Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security in order to offset the billions and billions their tax bill would add to the national deficit. “One of their ideas is to raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare,” he said, prompting emphatic boos from two older people sitting a couple of rows in front of me.

"I could never understand, as the Koch brothers do, having $90, $100 billion, and feel the need to lower their taxes," Sanders said in Dayton. “There is something weird and wrong about people who need more and more, and are willing to step over the elderly and the sick [to get it].”

In Akron, the crowd of 1,100 rose to their when Sanders proclaimed, “We have to guarantee healthcare to every man, woman and child in this country.” Half of them began chanting "USA! USA! USA!" while others began a "Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!" chant.

At breakfast, I asked Sanders how he avoids feeling demoralized when the Republicans control every branch of government. "What goes on in the White House and what goes on in the extreme right-wing leadership of the Republican Party concerns me every single day," he told me. "But we just don’t have the time to be demoralized. The stakes are much too high."

"I get a lot of very positive energy from these rallies," he told me. "As I have said many, many times, if we are successful, it’s not about one person, it is absolutely not about one person, it’s about millions of people beginning to stand up and understand that they have power in a democracy and they can make change. That’s what the goal is." your social media marketing partner


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+20 # PCPrincess 2017-12-07 10:41
Thank you Bernie. I can only hope that the number of Americans who go to the voting booth in 2020 choosing to vote for the betterment of all and not just for the betterment of self, outnumbers those Americans who vote out of spite, resentment, racism, or greed.

We had that chance, and not enough Americans could put behind themselves a self-centered need when voting, whether it be to assure a woman president, or the least worst candidate, or the person who would 'build a wall' so 'others' wouldn't come and take MY job, etc. This time we MUST as Americans really do the right thing and vote for the Ethical candidate, period. If we all did that, we could have a truly wonderful American revival.

Bernie, I support you all the way.
+2 # futhark 2017-12-07 19:25
Democrats need a platform and candidates that will work for programs for the betterment of all AND the betterment of self. Trump votes in traditionally Democratic places were probably the result of the disappointment many felt with the Democratic office holders who have not pushed for an agenda that would advance the causes of peace, justice, and a broadly shared sustainable prosperity.

Let's face it, many voters had grudges against the established political apparatus and rightly thought that the best way of expressing their resentment was to vote for Trump. The problem is that Trump Republicans seem to have no other agenda items than exacerbating income inequality, putting the planet's ecological balance in jeopardy, and keeping the privileged wealthy elite in power, none of which is anyone's long term best interest.
+6 # tedrey 2017-12-07 13:08
I myself have often fallen into the trap of denigrating people who consider themselves Republican and have voted that way. Bernie is right; we need to respect them enough to calmly show them how they have been tricked. But we also have to give them meaningful and believable alternatives, and the Democratic leadership just can't or won't do that. Bernie can and will.
+2 # Robbee 2017-12-07 17:05
great words - a tax bill that Sanders called "the biggest act of thievery in the modern history of this country." - luv ya, bernie!\\
+4 # lfeuille 2017-12-07 20:26
We have to clone Bernie. He is one of the few that know to talk to the persuadibles among Trump voters without raising their defeneses.

Note that he is NOT trying to work with Trump, but to convert his supporters to a program more likely to have benefits for them. It is not necessary to convert ALL of them, the election was very close and it should be possible to skim off enough of them to flip the results.
+4 # Moxa 2017-12-07 22:46
I am coming around to thinking that Bernie is right in his strategy vis a vis the Democratic party. Many on the left think that the party is so far lost to the corporatists that it must be discarded entirely and a new party formed. I shared that view but now I'm not so sure. Bernie's strategy--and Bernie is not only a mensch, he is a great politician--is to take over the party by revolution--and it is already happening, both by the election of more progressives, and by the shifts in policy of major Democrats. All of the now hopeful 2020 presidential contenders have allied themselves with Bernie's Medicare for all bill, for example. He has changed the conversation profoundly.

If Bernie becomes the Democratic nominee, he will win the 2020 election. But he would likely lose as a third party candidate because it would split the liberal vote in two. He has already said he would only run as a Democrat.

Shunning the Dems and/or starting a new party are fine. But if you want to see Bernie nominated, you must remain a Democrat ON PAPER: you must be registered as a Democrat or you will not be able to vote in the primary, at least in some places, like New York, for example, which is a huge state.

Bernie is the greatest hope this country has. He is right about the revolution involving millions, but a revolution needs a leader. So it is crucial we remain Democrats, whether we like it or not, if we want to see Bernie as our next president.
+2 # librarian1984 2017-12-08 09:09
Agreed. This is a matter I've been wrestling with for two years but, ultimately, I trust Bernie. He's smart and experienced and, unlike many others we're asked to trust, he has 40 years of credibility built up.

Two years ago I was sure it would be easier to change the party, a year ago that we could NOT work with them. But, at least on the surface, the DP has seemed more flexible than the DNC, and we've just seen progressives winning in special elections, many from within the DP. I am SO pleased to see this. It's not a flash in the pan -- it's a movement.

We have to DEMAND a fair race. If it's fair Bernie will win.

So now the task is to get people REGISTERED -- especially young people. Why on earth don't we have online registration and open primaries?

Moxa, Remember DraftBernie? They have just launched MPP, Movement for a People's Party. Their first newsletter tells us the newly elected VA governor, a conservative Democrat, has announced he'll ban sanctuary cities. In VA and NJ the DP worked to eliminate progressive candidates.

imo We should follow Bernie, work within the DP -- but NOT TRUST them one. little. bit. And in each race we should vote for the most progressive candidate, no matter what party they're in.

Hope you're well.
+2 # tedrey 2017-12-08 19:36
If you want my opinion, just reread Librarian1984's.


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