The “Stop Sanders” Movement Is Worried That Bernie Can Actually Win, Not That He’ll Lose

“Electability” is the public rallying cry of the Stop Bernie campaign. But look a little closer, and the real issue becomes clear: the establishment fears having a democratic socialist in the White House.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to Iowa voters at the Ames City Auditorium on January 25, 2020 in Ames, Iowa. Win McNamee / Getty

Bernie Sanders’s recent rise in the polls has elicited an entirely predictable reaction from all the usual suspects who make up America’s op-ed pages. But, personally offended as the chatterati are, there are signs that the prospect of a Sanders victory in the Democratic primary contest is awakening an altogether more vicious beast that’s long been in the Vermont senator’s crosshairs.

This week, NBC, the Associated Press, and Politico all reported on the emerging anxiety within elite Democratic circles about Sanders’s ascent in the polls and nascent efforts by operatives to arrest his momentum. As journalist Andrew Perez noted, all three reports cited one Matt Bennett, cofounder of the organization Third Way, who issued boilerplate warnings about the supposed dangers of a Sanders nomination. In a pattern that is almost certain to be repeated in the coming weeks and months, Bennett’s intervention was framed as an earnest expression of concern by a moderate Democrat mindful of taking what he believes to be a major political risk.

But it was actually something else, given Bennett’s job at a self-identified “think tank” that has received extensive contributions from corporate patrons, including health insurance company Humana and Koch Industries. Washington is packed with groups like Third Way and others in the same mold, the function of which is to provide a layer of institutional sediment separating corporate interests from the mouthpieces they fund to advance their interests. In the gelatinous mass of lobbyists, megadonors, corporate spokespeople, and political operatives resulting from this arrangement, it can often be difficult to tell where the private sector ends and the public sector or party apparatus begins.

Nonetheless, Bennett’s anguished intervention is a telltale sign that panic about Sanders is starting to spill outside the op-ed pages and into the boardrooms of corporate interests — from pharmaceutical companies to Wall Street investment firms — who have an immediate pecuniary interest in opposing his program. If Sanders’s performance in the first round of primaries and caucuses matches current expectations, big business will undoubtedly intensify its efforts to stop him — likely aided, as in this case, by centrist Democrat operatives who sit at the noxious juncture of party politics and corporate agitprop.

A more overt harbinger came in the form of a recent MSNBC appearance by former Obama administration adviser, Wall Street financier, and Narandra Modi enthusiast Steve Rattner — who currently works as Michael Bloomberg’s personal money manager and is reportedly worth well over $100 million. Though he took care to repeat the meta argument so fashionable among neoliberal Democrats that Sanders “can’t win,” Rattner’s primary concern seemed to be something else:

The more that Bernie Sanders rises . . . the more people are getting scared about a Bernie Sanders candidacy, for two reasons. First, because they think he’ll lose. And second, they think if he wins, he’ll implement the kinds of policies . . . which are so far away from the center of the Democratic Party. So there’s a lot of activity around trying to quote “stop Bernie,” although it isn’t called by that just yet.

Rattner is, of course, quite correct to suggest that a Sanders presidency would move to implement policies opposed by the “center of the Democratic Party” — an innocuous-sounding phrase leveraged to obscure the vast web of Wall Street firms, pharmaceutical giants, insurance companies, and other corporate interests that have long found a home within the Democratic establishment, dictated the limits of the party’s policy agenda, and stuffed the upper echelons of its donor and consultant class.

More than any expressed concerns about his viability in a general election, opposition to the Sanders program and what it would mean for corporate balance sheets is what Stop Bernie is really about.