Bernie Sanders has long argued, but failed to prove, that his great government populism can win over voters from the largely white rural communities who flocked to Republican Donald Trump in the last election.
Now, as the Senate chief shepherd of a $ 3.5 trillion budget proposal, Sanders believes he has another chance to test the theory.
The Vermont senator is throwing himself into Trump’s country this weekend, promoting a budget plan chock-full of progressive initiatives and funded by higher taxes on the highest earners. It specifically targets two congressional districts where Trump’s vote totals increased between 2016 and 2020.
“What we are doing is precisely what working class, Republican, Democratic, independent working class families want,” said Sanders, who helped negotiate the proposal as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, in an interview. “And we’re going to pay for it by demanding that the richest people and the biggest and best performing companies start paying their fair share of taxes.”
Sanders will hold town halls in West Lafayette, Indiana on Friday night and in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Sunday. He says he will highlight the difference between the two parties since Republicans in Congress approved tax cuts for wealthy Americans in past years, but are expected to universally oppose a plan Sanders calls ” the most important piece of legislation “since Frank Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s.
It could be a tough sell for the face of the progressive movement. Republicans have already started using Sanders – along with fellow Democratic Socialist and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez – in ads warning voters the country is moving closer to socialism.
Sanders saw his political star rise to the national level for the first time by nearly winning the Iowa Democratic caucus in 2016, and he won the Indiana Democratic primary that year over Hillary Clinton. As he pushed his party to the left and attracted voters frustrated with mainstream Democrats, Sanders and his supporters argued to go beyond the mainstream by appealing to the white working class who can attract Republicans or supporters. non-voters.
“He has a lot of credibility with many audiences who are not just progressive,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the progressive rights group, the Working Families Party. “He’s a stranger. He’s a populist. And, in fact, what we’ve always said that works best against right-wing populism is progressive populism.
But the evidence that Sanders has a particular influence on Trump voters is limited. According to data from the Pew Research Center, only about 3% of people who consistently supported Sanders during the 2016 primary season, and who were confirmed to have voted in the general election, said they ultimately backed Trump, against 81% who said they had voted. for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in February 2020 found that 17% of Republicans had a favorable opinion of Sanders, roughly the same proportion of Republicans who had a favorable opinion of Biden.
Sanders’ next chance to make his point is a budget proposal that promises a universal preschool and a tuition-free community college, while increasing federal funding for child care, paid family leave and child care. fight against climate change. It is also expanding health care coverage through Medicare, creating pathways to citizenship for millions of immigrants to the country illegally, and encouraging states to pass pro-work laws.
Republicans say the plan is loaded with unnecessary spending and tax increases. But Democrats, as long as they stay united, can use their small advantage in every house of Congress to push it through anyway.
Sanders says his trip could increase pressure on Republicans who oppose measures that are widely popular with working-class Americans, regardless of their ideology.
“It’s the people’s budget. It’s the budget that will impact tens of millions of lives in this country: the elderly, children, working families, the middle class, ”Sanders said. “So it is appropriate for me that the chairman of the budget committee walks around the country, hears what people have to say. Explain what we are trying to do.
While Sanders is heading for the Red States, his journey isn’t exactly into hostile territory. His 2016 and 2020 presidential candidacies were popular with students and West Lafayette is home to Purdue University. He also remains popular in Iowa, which means his event at Cedar Rapids could attract far more longtime Sanders supporters than potentially convincing Republicans.
Still, Sanders scoffed at suggestions that his presidential campaigns were more successful in energizing Liberals, many of whom were wealthy, than increasing his party’s appeal to cross voters.
“Poll after poll, the American people want the richest people, the big corporations, to pay their fair share. They are not rich liberals, they are working class Americans, ”said Sanders, adding his ability to sell the budget proposal to independents and Republicans,“ I think that’s part of my job and I think that I will get out of it. ”
There is some bipartisan support for key elements of the budget proposal. A July AP-NORC poll found that 62% of Republicans supported funding for caregivers for the elderly. At least 4 in 10 Republicans said they support funding for free preschool, affordable housing, high-speed internet access and local public transportation, and nearly 3 in 10 said ‘They were supporting funding for a free community college.
Sanders’ trip follows President Joe Biden and his allies traveling the country to promote the administration’s efforts to strengthen the post-coronavirus pandemic economy. Sanders said he was confident in Biden’s support for the proposal.
The two former rivals are not expected to travel together to promote the proposed budget, although he would not object, Sanders said.
The administration’s economic agenda has been overshadowed in recent days by the violence and chaos in Afghanistan. But Sanders says Americans from all walks of life understand that what is going on there and with their wallets at home “are separate issues.”
Yet the budget process has not gone entirely smoothly, even within Sanders’ own party. A group of moderate House Democrats threatened to derail the budget plan and did not drop their opposition until after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised a vote on a separate public works program from $ 1 trillion that has already passed the Senate would come in at the end of next month.
Mitchell called these moderate Democrats “obstructionists.”
“This small but loud team, they don’t have a popular base,” Mitchell said. “People want this to pass. ”
Sanders, however, will be in the territory of moderate Iowa Democratic Representative Cindy Axne, whose staff say she has no plans to attend her Sunday event. Republicans believe Sanders hitting the road could ultimately hurt his party in next year’s midterms, when control of Congress is on the line.
“The Democrats’ embrace of socialism has helped us win seats in 2020 and will continue to help us midway through,” Republican National Congressional Committee spokesman Mike Berg said.
Sanders replied that he was not worried that his visit would make things politically uncomfortable for Axne, saying, “It’s the right thing to do for America, I think in his district, or any other district in this country. . ”
“If I had the time, I would love to go to 50 states in this country,” Sanders said. “So we’ll choose and get out when we can.”
AP Director of Public Opinion Research Emily Swanson contributed to this report.