The more moderate supporters of Bernie Sanders insist that, despite his simplistic and often demagogic slogans, he is in reality a hardheaded politician ready to make the necessary compromises to advance his agenda. One test of this theory has already arrived.
Michael Bloomberg has promised to spend a billion dollars supporting the Democratic nominee, even if it’s not him. Every candidate has said they’re happy for the help — except Sanders.
Last night, Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, reiterated his objection to the notion that a billionaire would spend on his behalf. “It’s a hard no,” Weaver told NBC News after the debate. “Bernie has said he’s going to fund his presidential campaign with small-dollar contributions, and I think we can do that. I think we can raise over a billion dollars in small-dollar contributions.”
It’s possible Sanders has the ability to raise as much from his donors as Bloomberg is willing to spend. Of course, he could enjoy the benefit of Bloomberg’s independent efforts and still raise his own money, potentially enjoying a massive resource advantage over Donald Trump. But apparently he doesn’t want that.
Now, Sanders has no power to stop Bloomberg from spending money registering voters, buying ads attacking Trump, and so on. But it would be awkward for the candidate to actively oppose a massive political operation on his behalf, especially when it comes into contact with so many voters through mobilization efforts and ads. Bloomberg spokesperson Howard Wolfson agreed that his boss would submit to Sanders’s wishes. “Bernie said he didn’t want [Bloomberg’s] money, so we’re not going to,” he told NBC. “I don’t think it would be prudent to spend on behalf of somebody who didn’t want it.”
This is definitely a principle. If you truly, deeply object to the idea of billionaires exerting disproportionate influence over political campaigns to the point that you’d rather lose than let one of them help you, then Sanders deserves credit for ideological consistency. But Democrats should consider the possibility that Sanders is not merely pretending to be a fanatic. He may be prepared to follow his convictions to their logical conclusion, at whatever cost. And the message to Democratic voters is, if you want your nominee to have the tailwind of Bloomberg’s billion, nominate anybody but Sanders.