Photo: Bernie Sanders campaigning in Greensboro in 2015. (file photo)

Given the absolute fealty that Republican lawmakers now demonstrate before President Trump, the recent past seems like a reverse speculative fiction so outrageously fanciful that someone must have made it up.

The headline in the New York Times on Feb. 27, 2016 — almost exactly four years ago — literally read, “Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump.”

The
story opens with this apocalyptic assessment by a party mandarin: “The scenario
Karl Rove outlined was bleak.”

The
opening paragraphs bear quotation in full:

“Addressing
a luncheon of Republican governors and donors in Washington on Feb. 19, he
warned that Donald J. Trump’s increasingly likely nomination would be
catastrophic, dooming the party in November. But Mr. Rove, the master
strategist of George Bush’s campaigns, insisted it was not too late for them to
stop Mr. Trump, according to three people present.

“In
public, there were calls for the party to unite behind a single candidate,” the
article continued. “In dozens of interviews, elected officials, political
strategists and donors described a frantic, last-ditch campaign to block Mr.
Trump — and the agonizing reasons that many of them have become convinced it
will fail. Behind the scenes, a desperate mission to save the party sputtered
and stalled at every turn.”

The
senior party officials, consultants, donors and, yes, journalists who make up
the political class often forge a consensus around a type of candidate
considered viable, someone who can supposedly gain the support of an electoral
majority. The people often have another idea.

In
late 2015 and 2016, Donald Trump’s savage xenophobia, fearmongering against Muslims
and dystopian descriptions of urban crime and disorder coupled with shameless
pandering to the Christian evangelical, gun-rights and anti-abortion movements
fueled a white-nationalist insurgency that swept through the Republican
primaries, and, against all conventional wisdom, the November general election.

He
couldn’t possibly win after he was caught on video bragging about grabbing
women’s genitals. And then he won.

There’s
another candidate who maintains an ambivalent relationship with his party,
whose rallies draw huge crowds, who is supposedly weighed down by fatal
liabilities, who commands loyalty from a base of fanatical supporters, and whose
appeal reaches beyond the comfortable parameters of the party.

He is an independent senator from Vermont who is seeking the Democratic nomination. His name is Bernie Sanders, and, incidentally, he will be holding a rally at Winston-Salem State University on Thursday.

How
can the political class be so blindered? On the Democratic side, far from
learning their lesson from the Hillary Clinton fiasco, they promoted Joe Biden,
a legacy institutionalist with a platform and persona crafted to appeal to
everyone and no one.

The
anger in the American electorate has only intensified from 2016 to 2020. Across
the political spectrum, it’s fueled by the accelerating wealth divide, endless
and exorbitant wars, and the sense that the system only works for a corrupt,
politically-connected elite. The centrifugal force of a system that no longer
provides a meaningful sense of belonging to the vast majority of its citizens means
that the political energy is at the polar ends — expressed in rising white
nationalism fed by the tea party on the right, and a warming feeling towards
socialism and anarchy rooted in the Occupy movement on the left.

Give
the Democratic establishment a frontrunner who can win in November, and what do
they do? Pretty much exactly what their Republican counterparts did four years
ago.

Just
to sample some of the hysteria among the sages of the Democratic establishment,
listen to James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political strategist, react to
Sanders’ win in the Nevada caucus telling MSNBC host Brian Williams: “If you’re
voting for him because you think he’ll win the election, politically, you’re a
fool. And that’s just a fact. It’s no denying it, there’s so much political
science, so much research that this is not even a debatable question.”

Or
Chris Matthews, another MSNBC host. Beyond comparing Sanders’ victory in Nevada
to a Nazi invasion, his willful misrepresentation of Sanders’ democratic
socialism stands out as singularly bizarre and paranoid. He really said, “I
believe if Castro and the reds had won the Cold War, there would have been
executions in Central Park, and I might have been one of the ones getting executed.”

Before
Sanders’ win in Nevada, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to resign
as chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016, chastised a reporter at
the Miami Herald by saying, “We’re a
long way from who is going to be our nominee and so that speculation is really
not helpful at all.”

Rep.
Donna Shalala, another south Florida Democrat, was even more blunt.

“He’s
not going to be our nominee,” she said. “That’s a hypothetical question, and
since I don’t think he’s going to be the nominee, I don’t have to answer the
question.”

Mourn
the loss of the political center if you must, but understand where the
political energy is.

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