Feb 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's opportunity to use Bernie as an economic scapegoat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Zach Gibson/Stringer, The Washington Post/Getty Contributor

Bernie Sanders is poised to become an economic scapegoat for both the White House and Corporate America, assuming that Sanders comes through Super Tuesday unscathed.

The big picture: If the U.S. economy remains strong, President Trump and CEOs will claim credit (as they've been doing for three years). If it turns sour, they'll blame Bernie (even though it's a largely baseless charge).

  • We got a sneak preview yesterday, when a Fox Business Network anchor pinned the Dow drop on Nevada caucus results, rather than on rising coronavirus infections outside of China.

Presidents receive too much credit and criticism for the economy, a popular maxim that we've seen manifested in past reelection results.

The state of play: The core validity of American capitalism wasn't at issue in those prior tilts. Bernie Sanders opens that door by virtue of his self-described democratic socialism, giving Trump a rhetorical shield unavailable to past incumbents. And the same goes for CEOs and boards, who normally bear the brunt of poor performance.

  • This isn't to say that such arguments would necessarily work, particularly given that GDP growth and corporate earnings both softened before Sanders surged.
  • Nor that they should work, as only one president at a time sets policy.
  • It's just that they may work, particularly when the only alternative for Trump and CEOs would be accepting blame.

The bottom line: Sanders, just by virtue of his ascendant existence, gives today's political and business leaders a "heads I win, tails you lose" response to whatever the economy throws at us heading into November.

Go deeper: Reality check on Bernie Sanders' biggest ideas

Go deeper

Bernie Sanders' big socialism rebrand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Bernie Sanders is trying to rebrand socialism in the U.S., but he'll have to overcome common fears about what the word means — fears the Trump campaign is watching and waiting to exploit.

Why it matters: Sanders may face a major challenge in convincing Americans in their 40s or older that there's a meaningful difference between what he supports, described as democratic socialism, and the authoritarian socialism that we've seen in regimes like Venezuela.

What to watch in tonight's Democratic debate

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Colorado. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is now the clear front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and his opponents are ready to try to knock him down at tonight's debate in Charleston, South Carolina — especially Michael Bloomberg, who was the punching bag at the Las Vegas debate.

Why it matters: This is the last debate before Super Tuesday, when Sanders is expected to win California and Texas and could secure an insurmountable lead for the Democratic nomination. That's a direct threat to the entire field, but especially to Bloomberg, who skipped the early states to focus on the March 3 contests.

Sanders insists Democrats will unite around eventual nominee

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday dismissed claims from some Democrats that it would be difficult to unite the party around him, insisting on ABC's "This Week" that the "threat" that President Trump poses will rally Democratic voters and leaders to support the eventual nominee.

What he's saying: "At the end of the day, I have known Joe Biden for a very long time. He is a decent guy. I have no doubt that if I win, Joe will be there. If Joe ends up winning, I will be there. We are going to come together and President Obama in my view — he has said this — will play a leading role in helping whoever the Democratic nominee is."