The Slatest

Polling Indicates Trump, Biden May Come to Regret Convincing America Bernie Sanders Is Honest and Incorruptible

Sanders, wearing a coat, waves to a crowd with his right hand, which is clad in a comically large mitten.
Bernie Sanders in Columbia, South Carolina, on Monday.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The Buzzy Poll of the Day is CNN’s national survey, which shows Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic presidential race by a 27–24 margin over Joe Biden—the first poll since November that showed anyone other than Biden in front. Sanders has also gained 3 points in RealClearPolitics’ national aggregator in the past 10 days and led the last two polls of New Hampshire that were released.

The particularly bad news for Biden and his allies in the cautious, anti-socialist wing of the Democratic Party is that they have been praising Sanders for months as an avatar of honesty and trustworthiness. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel has been on top of this trend for a while; it reached its apex in October, when Sanders had a heart attack after going several months without making any progress in the polls. His campaign, at the time, was perceived as unthreatening if not outright doomed, and his purported honesty became a useful way to attack the next-leftmost candidate, Elizabeth Warren, who was polling well, after she declined during the Oct. 15 debate to address the question of whether she’d need to raise taxes to fund single-payer health care.

Sanders acknowledged that he would raise taxes to fund his own health plan, and the moderate-lane aspirants lined up to praise him for it. “At least that’s a straightforward answer,” Buttigieg said after Sanders spoke. “At least Bernie’s being honest here,” Amy Klobuchar added later. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who is still technically running, would later say he “appreciates the honesty” that Sanders brings to the issue. Biden himself had already been telling crowds for months that Sanders “has been very honest” about the subject. And now Sanders is creeping into co-front-runner territory with an electorate that has been primed to believe that he’s a man of his word with a practical (if expensive) plan to provide universal health care.

This may also be bad news for Donald Trump. For months, Trump has made both public and private efforts to portray Biden as corrupt. This has flowed naturally into the argument that Sanders is the victim of a primary process that is “rigged” on Biden’s behalf just as it was “rigged” for Hillary Clinton in 2016. House Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and White House internet-extremist liaison Donald Trump Jr. have even argued that Democratic insiders loyal to Biden pushed for an impeachment trial as a ploy to keep Sanders, who must attend the trial as a senator, off the campaign trail. (Sanders has been a vocal supporter of impeachment.) The clear idea is to amplify discontent among Sanders’ most ardently leftist and anti-establishment supporters with the goal of motivating them not to vote in November. Of course, if he ends up being the nominee, they will vote—and so might others from the substantial cohort of voters who want a president who will “shake things up in Washington” but who isn’t an overtly uninformed racist.

What it’s all reminiscent of is the idea, expressed often in early 2016, that Democrats should root for a Republican Trump nomination because he’d be easy to beat in the general election. Does history ever repeat itself as farce, but, like, a good farce that ends with Donald Trump not being president?