Bernie Sanders’s Spat With Liberal Think Tank Mars a Big Week

April 15, 2019 Updated: April 16, 2019

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is raising money faster than his nearly two dozen rivals in the Democratic presidential primary, he leads all of his rivals in the polls, and he is even confident that doing a Fox News town hall this week will gain him votes among disappointed Trump backers.

In other words, April 15 is the first day of what ought to be a huge week for the 76-year-old Democratic socialist who gave former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a tough race in 2016 and has all the markings today of a potentially unbeatable 2020 contender.

But then there’s this ugly little flap developing between the wild-haired Sanders and the former think tank home of two of his top 2020 campaign strategists, the Center for American Progress (CAP).

“Last week, you published an article on ThinkProgress criticizing me for my appearance and for the income I earned from writing a book,” Sanders wrote in a letter dated April 13 to CAP’s board of directors.

“Then, a day later, you published a video that dishonestly attacked me for hypocrisy in my effort to address income inequality in America—a video that was excitedly discussed on many conservative websites …

“This counterproductive negative campaigning needs to stop,” he wrote. “The Democratic primary must be a campaign of ideas, not of bad faith smears. Please help play a constructive role in the effort to defeat Donald Trump.”

Sanders also singled out longtime CAP President Neera Tanden, saying she “repeatedly calls for unity while simultaneously maligning my staff and supporters and belittling progressive ideas.

“I worry that the corporate money CAP is receiving is inordinately and inappropriately influencing the role it is playing in the progressive movement.”

Sanders was reacting to a post on CAP’s Think Progress blog that criticized him as a “millionaire” and “one-percenter,” as well as a CAP-linked video that artfully sequences clips of him blasting “millionaires and billionaires,” with more recent ones in which he only goes after “billionaires.”

The point of the video is to highlight Sanders’ supposed socialist hypocrisy after his best-selling book made him, in his own words, a “millionaire.”

Sanders’ assault on CAP wasn’t merely on his own behalf, as he also noted in his letter “unfair” attacks on Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

It’s difficult to think of a think tank operation with more widely spread links among Democrats than CAP. Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir and foreign-policy strategist Matt Duss are CAP veterans.

And the group’s board of directors features virtually a Who’s Who of the Democratic Party, including CAP founder and former White House adviser to President Barack Obama and 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta, billionaire environmental activists Tom Steyer and Hansjorg Wyss, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and defeated 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams.

Tanden sought on April 15 to distance herself and CAP from the Think Progress video, releasing a statement claiming that Think Progress is “editorially independent,” and noting that “we believe the content of the Think Progress video critiquing Sen. Sanders is overly harsh and does not reflect our approach to a constructive debate of the issues.”

Democratic campaign strategists asked by The Epoch Times on April 15 for comment were loath to do so, but one of them, who insisted on anonymity, argued that “there is no grand policy debate here, it’s not shades of McGovern in ’72.”

Republicans begged to differ, seeing multiple portents in the dustup of Sanders’ vulnerabilities as the Democrats’ presidential nominee.

“I think the Establishment Left versus the Democratic Socialists is the real story of 2020,” Americans for Limited Government President Richard Manning told The Epoch Times on April 15. “CAP is trying to knock off Bernie to benefit Biden, to do the political hit-job on Bernie that none of his opponents dare, due to the fear of alienating his voters.”

Texas-based GOP campaign strategist Matt Mackowiak saw it as both a continuation of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination contest and a harbinger of an unavoidable Sanders problem.

“Bernie and Hillary have been at war since 2016 and this latest chapter proves this battle won’t end any time soon,” but “Bernie will be on defense about his wealth for the rest of this presidential campaign … There’s no question it’s a larger disagreement. This is much more about ideas and ideology as it is about these two personalities,” Mackowiak told The Epoch Times.

Similarly, Heritage Action Executive Director Tim Chapman pointed to Sanders’ “fear of criticism” and said “they are trying to eject Think Progress from their progressive coalition. If he is this thin-skinned as a candidate, imagine how he might behave with significantly more power as a president.”

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