New York Times political contributor Lisa Lerer pulled out all the stops attacking Vermont senator and self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, suggesting that the ‘Teflon candidate’ may have survived a number of potential political close calls related to his personal history, views and policy platform, but may not withstand his latest challenge: “Russian interference.”
In a piece seemingly designed to recall all the things related to Sanders that moderate Democrats may find cringe-worthy, Lerer recalled his support for the socialist Sandinista movement in the 80s as US-sponsored contras attempted to overthrow Nicaragua’s government, “his honeymoon in the Soviet Union,” and the obscure ‘rape fantasy’ essay on gender roles he wrote in 1972.
The journalist pointed to Sanders’ congressional support for gun owners, his one-time pledge not to commit to the Democratic Party, “and secret plans to mount a 2012 primary challenge against President Obama.” In Sanders’ personal life, Lerer continued, there was the 2017 FBI investigation for possible bank fraud (which came up empty) and even the senator’s October 2019 heart attack, which caused some pundits, including Lerer herself, to claim that maybe Bernie’s just too old to be president.
However, if Sanders’ political career has proven able to withstand claims related to these and other accusations, “that durability is about to be tested in ways that Mr. Sanders has never experienced,” according to Lerer, owing to Friday’s Washington Post article claiming that Russia may be trying to meddle the primaries in Sanders’ favour. This event, she noted, could “distract from his campaign message and force him to contend with questions, worries and disinformation about the Russian efforts.”
In its piece, citing unidentified sources “familiar with the matter,” WaPo said that Sanders had been briefed by US intelligence about an alleged Russian meddling effort. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Sanders said that he didn’t care who Moscow allegedly “wants to be president,” saying his “message” to Russian President Vladimir Putin was “clear: stay out of American elections.” The New York Times issued a conflicting report Thursday ‘citing intelligence officials’ claiming that Russia’s meddling was actually aimed at helping to get President Trump reelected.
Moscow denied those allegations, calling the NYT piece “another paranoid report” which it expects to see more of as November approaches. Trump National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said he hadn't seen "any intelligence" that Russia was "doing anything to get President Trump reelected," suggesting that the report was "the same old story that we've heard before."
In any event, Lerer believes it’s “too early to know if the Russian news or any burgeoning anti-Sanders effort among Democrats” will be able to halt his momentum as frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Accusing Russia of possibly “trying to help him, four years after it helped Mr. Trump,” the columnist suggested that it’s still “far from clear how that foreign interference will affect the race.”
Lerer’s latter claims are odd, since she seems to either have slept through or deliberately ignored the April 2019 release of the Mueller report on ‘Russian meddling’ in the 2016 race, which found no evidence of collusion of any kind between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, and which alleged that the only sign of Russian meddling was a Facebook and Twitter trolling campaign whose effectiveness and significance have since been repeatedly challenged.
Sanders Supporters Angered
Lerer’s piece didn’t go over well with Sanders’ supporters, whose enthusiasm for their candidate has often led their adversaries to label them as ‘Bernie Bros’. Supporters accused the NYT of smearing their candidate in a last, desperate bid to stop his rise. “People are suffering and they keep trying to hurt Bernie with inconsequential nonsense,” one user complained. “Why are the Democrats helping Trump by tearing down the frontrunner?” another asked. “Keep crying, establishment hacks,” a third angrily chimed in.
The problem is the party fundamentally misunderstands potential voters.— Chris H 🏳️🌈 (@Chris_H_Politic) February 22, 2020
Voters trust him & like his policies & don't care about tone policing, his houses, or more detailed medical records.
People are suffering & they keep trying to hurt Bernie with inconsequential nonsense.
Why are the Democrats helping trump by tearing down the frontrunner? Why are they so divisive? We need unity— Josh Reif 🔥 (@Josh_Reif) February 22, 2020
keep crying, establishment hacks— online nobody (@online_nobody) February 22, 2020
Some users also challenged NYT with statistics, pointing to a recent Emerson poll suggesting Sanders was the only Democrat consistently shown to be able to defeat Trump in the general.
This week’s Emerson polling shows @BernieSanders as the only dem to beat Trump— Monty McKeever 🐦☮️🗽🌹🌎 (@montymckeever) February 22, 2020
Theres been polls like this going back 5 years & frankly I dont even think polls are the most compelling data about why he’d win
The way he activates the disenfranchised is far more telling pic.twitter.com/pYKq6EHsra
Others trolled NYT with a series of memes.
It's happening. pic.twitter.com/4f4OHameeU— Bloomberg Staff for Bernie (@DavidAgStone) February 22, 2020
"We just can't seem to find the right lie to stifle democracy!" pic.twitter.com/QPpzLmlGgS— manic pixie dream cop (@RoeVWadeBoggs) February 22, 2020
A few supporters of Lerer’s piece voiced their support, only to be drowned out by Bernie supporters in likes and retweets.
We can and will, actually— Timbo the Bernie Bro 🗿 (@FungeonMaster1) February 22, 2020