Donald Trump Is Growing Concerned About Bernie Sanders

Trump, according to operatives in his circle, has expanded his reelection worries from his longtime focus on former Vice President Joe Biden to the new threat of Bernie Sanders.

The New York Times recently reported that some of Trump’s advisers believe that Sanders is a beatable general election candidate and have worked to elevate him. But the same article suggested that Trump himself disagrees and has been working to undermine Sanders with his public comments. The divergent views among Trump and his aides lead to an amusing strategic synchronicity: Trump believes that he is hurting Sanders by attacking him, while the president’s advisers believe that he is helping Sanders with those same attacks — and so Trump attacking Sanders serves the interests (as they understand them) of both Trump and his advisers.

While only one of those prognostications can be correct, Trump’s private fears, as ever, have emerged publicly as well, according to an analysis of Trump’s public comments on the race going back to early 2019. Trump has tweeted more times about Sanders in just the first few weeks of this year than he has since last summer, while he has tweeted slightly less about Biden, even as the former vice president has been central to Trump’s narrative around impeachment. In stump speeches made in January, Trump mentioned Sanders’s name — or, as Trump refers to him, “Crazy Bernie” — eight times as often as Biden. This marks a drastic change from last fall when Biden was a frequent Trump target at campaign rallies, while Sanders was barely mentioned.

Trump has long been nervous about Sanders, as he explained in a private conversation with Lev Parnas, a central character in the impeachment saga, and others in 2018, audio of which has been leaked.

“I think Bernie as vice president would have been tougher,” Trump said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 selection of Sen. Tim Kaine to be her running mate. “He was the only one I didn’t want her to pick.”

“You know, I got 20 percent of [the] Bernie vote, people don’t realize that, because of trade, because he’s a big trade guy. He basically says we’re getting screwed on trade, and he’s right. I’m worse than he is, but we can do something about it. I don’t know if he could have,” he said, presumably meaning that he is worse for free trade supporters than Sanders would be.

“But had she picked Bernie Sanders, it would have been tougher,” Trump continued. “Now, then you say — people say no, it would have been easier because then her sort of establishment, normal Democrats would have come to me, so she may have lost a lot of votes too.”

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