Is Bernie Sanders the right man for the Democrats to take on Donald Trump. Picture: AP
Is Bernie Sanders the right man for the Democrats to take on Donald Trump. Picture: AP

Is Bernie Sanders too extreme for America?

HE'S a 78-year-old socialist who had a heart attack just four months ago, a career politician who has retained a reputation as a fierce idealist and who is calling for nothing short of a revolution in America.

Even though it's early days, and we have learned that in modern politics absolutely anything can happen, Bernie Sanders is currently on track to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.

Should the fiery Vermont senator win next week's Nevada caucuses and retain his lead through South Carolina into the crucial Super Tuesday primary contest next month, he will almost certainly be the one taking on Donald Trump for the US presidency in November.


That could see an election fought over his platforms of free college education, government-funded healthcare for everyone, banning fracking and fossil fuels and the potential (not yet publicly costed) tax hikes that will be needed to pay for them.

Currently polling at number one nationally and in the critical states of California and Texas, Mr Sanders is setting the stage for a rerun of the 2016 race, which he narrowly lost to Hillary Clinton.

Pushed out by the Democratic hierarchy four years ago when so called "super delegates" favoured Mrs Clinton's candidacy, this time he's taking no chances, having fought successfully for rule changes that limit the power of party insiders over the popularly-won vote to stop it from happening again.

Sanders and his far-left policies could be an easy target for Republican ridicule. Picture: AP
Sanders and his far-left policies could be an easy target for Republican ridicule. Picture: AP

He's also amassed a record individual fundraising haul, including $A40million in small donations in January alone, as well as a huge travelling volunteer groundforce that last month doorknocked more than 100,000 New Hampshire households ahead of Tuesday's primary poll, which he won.

The Democratic nomination will be awarded to the candidate with the most delegates at the end of the bruising primary season, and although Mr Sanders is currently jostling for the top delegate count with upstart midwest mayor, Pete Buttigieg, 38, upcoming contests in more diverse states are not leaning the way of the young Washington outsider.

Mr Sanders has consistently outpolled Mr Buttigieg and fellow moderate Amy Klobuchar with Hispanic and black voters, and while former vice president Joe Biden enjoys strong support in minority electorates, his fourth and fifth places in the first two primary votes will be hard to overcome.



Add to this the fact that the much-anticipated official entry to the race of the billionaire former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg - a growing threat who sat out the early primaries to concentrate on Super Tuesday, when a third of delegates are awarded in a single day - may actually help Mr Sanders, given that it is likely to further split a divided moderate vote.

A Sanders 2020 ticket has sparked concerns in everyone from the Trump campaign, who understand his passionate base could well rival that of the President, to establishment Democrats, who fear his radical agenda will alienate the vital, swing voters who could turn the contest.

"Frankly, I'd rather run against Bloomberg than Bernie Sanders, because Sanders has real followers - whether you like him or not, whether you agree with him or not," Mr Trump said at the White House last week.

"I happen to think it's terrible what he says. But he has followers."

Presidential historian and political commentator Mark Updegrove said some of Mr Sanders more radical policies were unlikely to come to pass if he were to become president.

"The paradox of Bernie Sanders is that he's been in the Senate for an appreciable amount of time and really has nothing to show for his tenure," Mr Updegrove said.

"I think the Bernie pose is that to have gotten things done would have meant to have compromised his values.


"There was once a time when committee and compromise were the oil of democracy, and now it seems like you don't stoop to those things because you're compromising your integrity to take those steps.

"Even revolutionaries have to mobilise armies to affect change, to make reform.

"With Bernie, you're talking about these revolutionary ideas that America is not prepared to implement. I don't know what the financial underpinnings of these ideas are. I don't think that has been factored in. There's no sound budgetary reasoning behind these things, which are going to make them very problematic.

"To make a promise for free college education, repayment of student loans and universal healthcare is one thing. To make them financially feasible is something altogether different."


Michael Bloomberg could turn the Democratic race on its head. Picture: AP
Michael Bloomberg could turn the Democratic race on its head. Picture: AP


Voter turnout, which has not been overwhelming in early states, would be crucial to which Democrat ends up doing battle with Mr Trump, Mr Updegrove said.

"If Democrats ultimately reject a Bernie or (fellow progressive Elizabeth) Warren candidacy, does that mean that the youth vote stays away? Or that the leftists in the party decide not to vote?" said Mr Updegrove, who is also CEO of the LBJ Foundation in Texas.

"It's my own view, and this might be very conservative, that the more moderate candidate is a better choice for the Democrats because it would be more appealing to the electorate in general.

"There's no question that there's going to be a core constituency that is going to continue to vote for Trump. He could shoot that guy on Fifth Avenue and they would still check the box for him.

"But it's my considered view that if you're competing for that very small group of undecided voters who could go either way, that a moderate candidate would be the better choice."

There also remain plenty of doubters that Mr Sanders could be the one to unite a fractured Democratic Party, given the huge target his far left ideology offers his political enemies.

"When they're done, you will not recognise the ageing, mouth-frothing, business-destroying commie from Ben and Jerry's dystopian dairy," writes Timothy Egan in The New York Times.

"Demagogy is what Republicans do best. And Sanders is ripe for caricature."

This meant the Bloomberg threat should not be discounted, said Mr Updegrove.

"Money in politics goes a long way," Mr Updegrove told News Corp Australia of Mr Bloomberg.

"He certainly has plenty of it and has used it to promote his campaign. If you're looking at a head to head combat with Donald Trump, he's a pretty compelling candidate. This is a guy who like Donald Trump is a billionaire who's made a lot of money in the public sector.

"While that's Donald Trump's image, it's Michael Bloomberg reality. And he has gotten real things done in our largest metropolis."