The national Democratic Party is in full panic now, its leaders in a headlong flight like something from a 1950’s sci-fi flick where terrorized townspeople flee a 10-story tall monster crushing cars and flattening buildings.
It’s not some Godzilla-like creature risen from the ocean depths. Just a cranky, white-haired 78-year-old socialist from Vermont leading a dedicated band of followers trampling on a party establishment and reducing to rubble the philosophical pillars which support it.
It’s the second coming of Sen. Bernie Sanders, delivering payback to the party hierarchy he blames for rigging the 2016 presidential primary process and cheating him of the nomination. His victory in the New Hampshire primary following a first place finish in the train wreck that was the Iowa caucuses secured his position leading the remaining viable contenders for the nomination.
Sanders - like Donald Trump four years ago - is an agent of change, not working at the margins and nibbling at the fringes change but bulldozing the political landscape flat and starting over change. Both boast dedicated, committed armies to prove their points. Both provided an outlet for the restiveness and alienation that gripped much of the country and turned it into a rebellious movement.
Four years ago, Trump’s candidacy was dismissed by the Republican Party overlords as another public relations stunt, part of The Donald’s obsession to be the center of attention but not to be taken seriously.
The Sanders candidacy was viewed more seriously - particularly since his strong showing against Hillary Clinton in 2016 - but the smart money insisted he was little more than a gadfly promoting ideas and policies that wouldn’t gain traction with voters. His showing against Clinton was fool’s gold, the argument went, the result of a wretched campaign by Clinton rather than a rush to embrace Sanders.
As Trump rolled through the primaries, blustered through debates and captured outsized media attention, the resonance of his message was ignored by those at the helm of the national party. Who in their right mind would support a thrice-married New York City real estate mogul with a history of financial chicanery, bankruptcies and a penchant for derogatory behavior toward women?
Trump succeeded by declaring his candidacy posed a choice between the tired status quo elements controlling the party and his pitch to disaffected Americans who felt ignored by an indifferent government interested only in perpetuating themselves in power.
It wasn’t merely frustrations Trump recognized and played to - it was an anger simmering across the nation by Americans who’d lost jobs, saw homes fall into foreclosure and their hopes for their and their children’s future vanish.
When Trump cried “Make America Great Again,” his listeners envisioned a return to a past when hope and optimism were genuine and hard work was its own reward.
Political correctness, he said, was the ruination of America and a mockery of traditional values.
And, they responded by electing an unproven entity whose qualifications and experience were greatly outweighed by his opponents.
Despite vast unbridgeable ideological differences, the Sanders/Trump parallels are vivid.
Sanders has relentlessly attacked the wealthy, large corporations and an uncaring, unresponsive government. From chronic income inequality to the perils of climate change, Sanders has laid blame at the doorstep of self-serving and self-absorbed robber barons.
“There should be no such thing as billionaires,” he once cried to his audience.
He and his army reject criticism they are engaged in class warfare, arguing that if there is a war, the middle class and the low earners are the only casualties.
The rich, Sanders contends, have become a protected class even enjoying the approval of elements of the Democratic Party - the party of the working class - desperate to maintain status and power.
And, as Trump before him, Sanders’ message has resonated, attracting the disaffected and overlooked with a pledge that his Administration would tolerate it no longer.
The suddenly real possibility that Sanders will ride that wave of discontent to the presidential nomination has induced a panic, a fear that his candidacy built on socialism will produce an electoral disaster, costing the party a chance at regaining the White House and potentially losing control of both houses of the Congress.
The monster that now stomps the streets is leading a revolution. And, they are the ones who poked it awake.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.