Debate Special: The One Where Everyone Attacks Bernie Sanders

In South Carolina, everyone had their sights set on the newly minted frontrunner.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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With victories in New Hampshire and Nevada and a firm lead in the national polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders is now unquestionably the frontrunner in the Democratic race. On Tuesday night, the top contenders met for their final debate before the South Carolina and Super Tuesday primaries, and everyone had their sights set firmly on the senator from Vermont. Mehdi Hasan talks to writer, activist, and Sanders surrogate Shaun King about Sanders’s performance and his groundbreaking answers to questions on foreign policy.

Bernie Sanders: Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba. What I said is what Barack Obama said that Cuba made progress on education. Yes, I think —

[Crowd boos.]

BS: Really? Really?

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. They all went after Bernie Sanders last night at the Democratic debate in South Carolina. But did they knock him out?

BS: I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why.

MH: On today’s special post-debate edition of the show, I’ll ask writer, activist and Sanders surrogate Shaun King, who also had some strong words about Michael Bloomberg getting a pass last night on the issue of spying on Muslims:

Shaun King: It was painful to see him on that debate stage not be confronted for that.

MH: It was a debate in which the moderators lost control and asked awful questions, in which Michael Bloomberg dodged answering any tough questions, in which the rest of the candidates talked over one another, when they weren’t all attacking Bernie Sanders.

But here’s the thing: history was made, because on U.S. foreign policy we heard a candidate say things that we’ve never heard a U.S. presidential candidate say on the debate stage before.

Tom Steyer: Bernie Sanders’ analysis is right. The difference is, I don’t like his solutions. I don’t believe that a government takeover of large parts of the economy makes any sense.

Elizabeth Warren: I fought the big banks. I built the coalitions, and I won. I dug in. I did the work. And then Bernie’s team trashed me for it.

Joe Biden: Bernie voted five times against the Brady Bill. I’m not saying he’s responsible for the nine deaths, but that man would not have been able to get that weapon with the waiting period had been what I suggest until you are cleared.

Michael Bloomberg: Vladimir Putin thinks that Donald Trump should be president of the United States. And that’s why Russia is helping you get elected, so you will lose to him.

MH: Last week, in Nevada, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg made his debut on the Democratic debate stage and bore the brunt of most of the attacks. Last night in South Carolina though, the crosshairs were firmly on Bernie Sanders as each and every one of his opponents tried to tear a strip out of the frontrunner in their very first answers.

Because that’s what Bernie Sanders is right now. Believe it or not, the democratic socialist from Vermont is the frontrunner in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. And it clearly drives some of his more right-wing rivals up the wall.

Here was Mayor Pete last night attacking Senator Sanders for his left-wing positions which Buttigieg claimed would cost Democrats the White House AND control of Congress:

Pete Buttigieg: I’ll tell you exactly what it adds up to: It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House and the inability to get the Senate into Democratic hands.

MH: But, I’m not sure the attacks on Bernie did that much damage. Nor did the boos from the crowd – perhaps the first time Sanders has been booed on a Democratic presidential stage, and it can’t be a coincidence, can it, that tickets apparently weren’t open to the general public, but were available to wealthy Democratic donors who were willing to fork out between 1,750 and 3,200 dollars per ticket. Not your average Bernie voter, perhaps.

Elizabeth Warren meanwhile didn’t hold back yet again in her attacks on Mayor Bloomberg. There was this remarkable exchange where she called him out on his record on women—pregnant women who work for him—with a very specific and shocking example:

EW: When I was 21 years old, I got my first job as a special education teacher. I loved that job. And by the end of the first year, I was visibly pregnant. The principal wished me luck and gave my job to someone else. At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me, “Kill it,” the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said.

MB: I never said that. Oh, come on.

EW: — To one of his pregnant employees. People want a chance to hear.

MH: There’s that seemingly pro-Bloomberg booing again, from the audience, weird, right?

Still, the highlight of the night for me, and I’m sure for millions watching on TV and online, and around the world too, was when Bernie Sanders did something no major presidential candidate has ever done before in my lifetime – or in anyone’s lifetime frankly. No not his call for Medicare for All, not his attack on billionaires, but his demand for some basic honesty when it comes to discussions about US foreign policy:

BS: Occasionally it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran.

MH: Did you hear that? A candidate for president of the United States mentioning just how bad U.S. foreign policy has been for so many people across the developing world, for so many victims of US-led regime change wars and CIA-backed coups. It’s the kind of stuff you might have heard on this show before from, say, Noam Chomsky, who happens to be an old friend of Bernie Sanders, by the way, but not from a presidential candidate on a presidential debate stage. By the way, that was Sanders responding to red-baiting from the moderators and from Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, when they all tried to suggest he was some sort of Fidel Castro apologist. That was his response, which was such a breath of fresh air, whatever you think about his candidacy.

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough to have you cheering at your television screens last night, well, Bernie wasn’t done. The man who now has a very good chance of becoming the first Jewish president in American history, when asked a ridiculous question by the CBS moderators which seemed to suggest he was a self-hating Jew for refusing to go to the AIPAC conference next week — because, breaking news!, AIPAC provides a pro occupation platform to far-right bigots and Islamophobes — Bernie called the prime minister of Israel a racist and then demanded rights for the Palestinians:

Major Garrett: What would you say to American Jews who might be concerned you’re not, from their perspective, supportive enough of Israel? Would you move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv?

BS: SANDERS: Let me just — the answer is, it’s something that we would take into consideration.

MG: Which would —

BS: But here — excuse me. But here is the point. I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that, right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country. And I happen to believe — I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people. We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians and the Americans. And in answer to your question, that will come within the context of bringing nations together in the Mideast.

MH: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if Bernie Sanders becomes president, he’ll have a greater and perhaps more radical impact on U.S. foreign policy than he will on U.S. domestic policy. And you can get as worked up as you like about comments he made years ago about literacy rates improving in Cuba under Fidel Castro but the fact is that right now he’s the only candidate on that stage who goes out of his way to bring up the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights and whether he wins or loses this presidential race, he has shifted the Democratic Party’s positioning on this issue and kudos to him for that.

[Music interlude.]

MH: So, where does Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner, go from here? How much did the attacks on him last night hurt his campaign for the presidency? And what kind of night did Michael Bloomberg and Joe Biden have?

To discuss all of this and more, I’m joined by Shaun King, the writer and activist behind the relaunch of the North Star newspaper and host of the podcast, The Breakdown. He’s also a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign and he joins me now from Brooklyn. Shaun, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

Shaun King: Yeah, I’m glad to be here, man. Glad to talk to you.

MH: That debate last night was a bit of a shit show, wasn’t it?

SK: It was. It was hard to watch. And obviously, I’m a huge fan of Bernie Sanders. And, you know, right away they started piling on Bernie but it wasn’t just that. It was just, it was just a mess from start to finish. I mean, it was poorly moderated. The candidates talking over each other. And I saw the same thing online of people just saying like, yeah, this is a mess. And so I think it’s bad for the Democratic Party, probably ultimately, still good for Bernie because no candidate was really able to stand out in that debate. And when he’s the front runner, if they can’t break out, it benefits him.

MH: Yeah, he wins by default, I guess, because he didn’t win based on his performance. It wasn’t his strongest performance. He didn’t have a lot of clap lines in that sense compared to previous debates. Tommy Vietor of Pod Save the World, friend of the show, said that this debate put the BS in CBS which I thought was an apt description.

SK: Yeah, it was, it was peculiar.

MH: Faiz Shakir, who’s the campaign manager for Bernie Sanders. He went out of his way to say it was poorly moderated. And I’m sure a lot of campaigns, a lot of candidates campaigns will be saying that and CBS will probably have to do some kind of post mortem. One thing that came up online with people pointing out news stories from South Carolina suggesting that to be in the audience last night, you had to have spent around $1,750, $1,750, up to $3,200 to get a ticket because it wasn’t open to the general public. You had the local Democratic Party was basically giving out tickets to sponsors and special guests. Do you think that explains some of the huge applause that Michael Bloomberg got compared to last week and some of the boos that Bernie Sanders got?

SK: Oh, yeah, I think so. I mean, it was peculiar, where people would applaud even bad things that Mike Bloomberg said like they would cheer for stuff that it wasn’t even like an appropriate time to cheer. It was a weird audience and I think that definitely, you know, worked against Bernie because it didn’t seem like everyday people were really there. They kind of sold the tickets to the highest bidder. So from the audience to the moderation. And I don’t think any candidate is going to come out of that debate feeling good about it. It was a mess from start to finish.

MH: Just in terms of people clapping, one person who did get a lot of applause who’s been leading in the polls consistently in South Carolina, despite dropping nationally, despite doing really, really badly in Iowa, New Hampshire is former Vice President, Joe Biden. Last night, he seemed to have more energy than normal. He was very worked up, he was jabbing. He had some attack lines ready. Did he have his Red Bull?

SK: That’s funny, man. You know, he didn’t seem like he had a few Red Bulls like his eyes were like, even my kids, my kids and family watch the debate with me, and they just thought he was like, alert in a weird way. And I think a couple things were at play there. You know, I posted a video yesterday as well showing him two nights ago at a dinner in Charleston, where he just said he was running for the United States Senate and then he said if you don’t vote for me you can vote for the other Biden.

JB: My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democratic candidate for the United States Senate. Look me over, if you like what you see, help out. If not, vote for the other Biden. Give me a look, though, okay.

SK: And so I — And that video kind of trended across the country, and got millions of views just in a few hours. And so I think he felt the pressure to show that he was alert and capable and in his defense, I thought he was more alert than normal, more than I even expected him to be.

MH: I agree with that. Although I saw someone, a former State Department official saying this is a good night for Biden, it’s one of his strong nights. He hasn’t been doing any gaffes or saying any bad stuff which is kind of how we talk about Trump. He’s almost graded on a curve.

SK: The bar is so low.

MH: He didn’t say anything demented, so therefore he had a good night.

SK: Right, and that is kind of the bar for Joe Biden that if he doesn’t make a complete fool of himself, he gets high grades. And so I mean that was kind of the thing. Although he did say that he didn’t write the crime bill. And you know, and nobody was there to push back against it like he, you know, Tom Steyer said, “You wrote the crime bill.” And he just looked him right in the face and said, “No, I didn’t.” And it’s like, that would have been a great moment for one of the moderators to say, actually, sir, not only did you write it, you defended it for years on end. It was peculiar, though.

MH: But here’s the thing, Shaun, I gave up on debate moderators, TV debate moderators back in 2016, if not before. I mean, they tend not to ask tough questions. They don’t do follow ups. They hide behind the kind of agreed rules that they’ve set with the DNC. But what about the other candidates on stage? What’s frustrated me over the last six, seven months of watching these Democratic debates is that the candidates really don’t go after one another. And you know, we watch these debates and we highlight the lines where they do but in general, they’re actually not that tough on each other with the exception of perhaps Elizabeth Warren. Even Bernie Sanders when he goes after Joe Biden he always prefaces it with, he’s my friend and gives him a hug.

Michael Bloomberg last week in Nevada got hammered which is why last week’s debate really did stand out to a lot of people because it was the first time we saw, you know, proper attacks on a candidate and the candidate’s record. But even last night, as you say, when Biden flatly tells a lie, no one calls him out on it. Michael Bloomberg carried on telling multiple lies. He talked about, you know, he was the guy who cut down stop and frisk. No, it wasn’t. It was a court ruling that cut down the rate of stop and frisk on his watch.

SK: And he said he cut it down by 95% which also is a complete fabrication. He continues to say, it was never cut down by 95% in his administration, and he just continues to just throw these things out there.

MH: But would you accept even as a Bernie supporter that it’s Elizabeth Warren who stands out when it comes to taking on kind of the Bloomberg-ian and even the Biden-esque untruths?

SK: Yeah, you know, I think Bernie’s MO in the debates is to always advance his agenda. And so even though many of us would love for Bernie to look any of the candidates in the face, and kind of just squarely tell them about themselves, he did call Bloomberg out a few times, but it’s really not his style. I mean, Bernie has kind of a tried and true method of just continuing to speak about his agenda and his policies. And so even though a lot of us would love for him to be able to kind of look Biden in the face or Bloomberg in the face, and really tell them about themselves, that’s just not really his MO. And so you can almost predict in every debate exactly how Bernie is going to do you know, he’s going to speak about Medicare for All. You know he’ll call out different types of bigotry around the world. You know, last night he did a few things that I thought were unique and profound. He called out the overthrow of foreign government, foreign governments by the United States. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that in a presidential debate.

MH: Agreed, it was historic. It was historic.

SK: Yeah, it was. So he’ll have moments like that where he says something about the overthrow of foreign governments by the American government. He’ll have moments like that. He’ll have moments where he called out the bigotry and racism of the Israeli government and Benjamin Netanyahu. He’ll be the only person on stage to do that. But he generally just won’t have confrontational moments. I also think he’s kind of taking the persona of the front runner of just saying, “Hey, I’m in first. I’m going to promote my ideas and policies. You all can attack me, but I’m just going to continue to do what works for me.”

MH: Hmm, the problem with that, of course, and there is a logic to that. But the downside to that argument, of course, is everybody who’s become a front runner took hits, and then wasn’t a front runner. Whether it was Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren had her moment in the sun. And I guess if people are supporters of Bernie Sanders, they might be worrying, you know what, when he’s attacked as this apologist for dictators or Fidel Castro, should he come out stronger? Last night he mentioned how well you know, I’m only saying what Obama was saying. He pointed out rightly, that Michael Bloomberg is an actual supporter of a Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party, but Bloomberg thinks that Xi Jinping is not a dictator. And Bernie said that but it was a reluctant attack which he offered in defense of himself. And I just wonder whether, if he took a more Warren-esque stance, where Elizabeth Warren was just blasting Bloomberg all night long for the second debate running.

SK: It’s just not how he does it. And you know, I think they each have their style. I actually thought Elizabeth Warren was masterful last week in the debate as well. I thought she took him on. I thought it was deeply impactful the way she confronted Michael Bloomberg. Last night, though, was just such a mess in general.

MH: That’s true.

SK: Anytime you tried to take on somebody, everybody just spoke over each other, the moderators really weren’t able to intervene. And so even Elizabeth Warren really didn’t have any gotcha moments that I think she hoped to have. I feel like in a lot of ways, she needed to kind of either duplicate or improve upon her last performance for her to break out.

MH: There was a great moment where she did remind everyone that Michael Bloomberg was funding Republican Senate campaigns as recently as 2016.

SK: That was strong.

MH: Which I’ve long argued is one of the strongest cases against Bloomberg. He then dodged it. He was not asked by the moderator to deal with that point. There were many moments last night where Bloomberg managed to dodge having to answer a straight question about his record. And sometimes he didn’t even get asked about his record. He got asked about sugary drinks and trans fats when he was mayor of New York. But you know, he didn’t get asked again about spying on Muslims while he was mayor of New York, because apparently Muslims have less value in U.S. political media discourse than sugary drinks and trans fats.

SK: Oh, it’s true man. It was painful to see him on that debate stage not be confronted for that, but not just there, just in the mainstream media in general, on that issue of just the gross level of surveillance of Muslims all over New York City. He’s never been held to account for that. And I do, I think you’re right, as painful as it is to say, Muslims in America are not treated as a priority citizens when it comes to basic human rights and dignity. And so Michael Bloomberg is just not being held responsible for a lot of aspects of his time as mayor. You know, I will say I thought he performed better in this debate like his performance was so bad —

MH: I mean, he couldn’t perform any worse could he, Shaun? He was such a car crash that he obviously came along prepped, but then he actually had the nerve to claim last night that he won last week’s debate which is a kind of classic kind of billionaire tactic.

SK: I was so confused by it. I even had to go back and look at it again when he said, I didn’t know if he was trying to tell a joke that he had rehearsed, and it just fell flat. But when he said that he won the last debate, it was like, I think he meant to be joking, I guess. But it was a weird moment.

MB: I’m surprised they show up because I would have thought after I did such a good job in beating them last week that they’d be a little bit afraid to do that.

MH: Well, the weirdest moment, or perhaps the most revealing moment, is when he said that he had helped fund rightly and he’s right about this — He had helped fund the House Democratic blue wave in the 2018 midterms. He had helped Nancy Pelosi take back the House by funding a lot of Democratic candidates, but then he referred to having, he said he bought them and then he corrects himself and says he funded them.

MB: All of the new Democrats that came in, put Nancy Pelosi in charge and gave the Congress the ability to control this president. I bought — I got them.

MH: That’s a great talk, I mean talk about Freudian slips. He’s a billionaire saying I bought politicians.

SK: Yeah, I mean, my whole family, again, my wife and kids were watching the debate with me and we all heard it. And like went crazy. We were like, he just slipped up and said he bought the Congress, like, and he said it. And, you know, I immediately wrote on Twitter, like, “Did you all hear what I just heard?” And I think it’s how we view him, that we all view him as somebody who thinks he buys influence and positions. But to hear him actually kind of have that Freudian moment and slip up and say it.

MH: He can’t help himself.

SK: Yeah, I mean, that’s just who he is.

MH: My argument from the beginning with Bloomberg has been, you know, his take is that, you know, “Oh, I can’t be bought because I’m a billionaire. And I’m not taking donations.” The problem is not that he can’t be bought. The problem is that he’s the one doing the buying.

SK: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And so what you now find is people endorsing him, basically even contradicting their own personal values and ethics to support him. Be it local politicians in New York or Congresspeople around the country who stand against a lot of the things that he’s done. But because he has funded them or programs that they care about, they’ve come out to endorse him nonetheless and so I’m continuously disturbed by the role of his money in this election. And I think the struggle is on an average day in this country, there’s so much coming at us from the Trump administration, from billionaires like Mike Bloomberg and others, that it’s hard to keep up with all the problems that are confronting us. And so on an average day, it’s almost like a fire hose of problems coming at you. And by the time the day is over, you can hardly remember the problems of that morning and Bloomberg is definitely a part of that, man.

MH: One of the things Bloomberg bragged about and to be fair, he has bragging rights, is how much money he spent on gun control, advocacy organizations, which he has, and those organizations have done good work at grassroots level. For Bernie Sanders, your candidate, gun control has been a bit of a problem as an issue that people use to attack him with. Last night, we saw Joe Biden bring up the fact that Bernie Sanders voted five times against the Brady Bill in the 90s, which, you know, mandated I think five-day waiting periods on purchasing guns. Bernie voted against it five times. And while Bernie Sanders was keen to tell the crowd, he has a D minus rating from the NRA today, the reality is in 1990, in one of his races, the NRA did back Bernie Sanders against a Republican, how much going forward do you think gun control is going to be a problem for Bernie?

SK: I don’t think it’s going to be a problem at all. I think there was a moment that I thought was, for me one of the two or three most profound moments of the debate — It only took five seconds, but while Bernie was being confronted about his voting record, his voting record from the year 2000 all the way now of the past 20 years on gun control has been great. And so many particularly young people from March for Our Lives and others have endorsed him. But he looked square in the camera and said, “Listen, we’ve all had bad votes and those votes of mine were bad votes.” And you know, people just moved on. But for me, it was part of why I’ve chosen to support him. I don’t like those votes either. And I’ve heard his argument that hey, in part, it’s because I represent a state that’s particularly rural where guns means something differently in Vermont than they mean across the country. And that’s been his defense of them in the past.

But tonight, I thought he just said, “Listen, those were actually bad votes.” And that’s part of what I love about him that he’s he’s willing to admit a mistake, to talk about something that he regrets and I think it’s one of the things that makes him unique on that stage. While everybody else pretty much pretended as if they’d never had a bad vote in their life, that they never actually supported the policies that they did support, when it came to those votes, he said, “Yep, those are bad votes.” And I think it requires that level of honesty and decency for him to be able to move forward with his record, like most gun control advocates support him now and feel that he’s really strong on that.

MH: I don’t know if it’s most gun control advocates. Obviously, some do and some don’t.

SK: Yeah, that’s fair, man. Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, I’ve heard even over the past couple weeks, as Bernie has been kind of put out there as a front runner. I’ve heard many prominent gun control advocates be asked if they feel good about where Bernie is on guns today and universally, I’ve heard them give strong answers on where he is today. I think it’s fair to critique his past votes. And I think, fair to critique everybody’s bad votes.

MH: It’s a good point. The issue is not did you have bad votes or bad records, but do you own that or not? In a way that for example, Joe Biden doesn’t own his Iraq war vote. He pretends it was something done reluctantly, that he was tricked by George W. Bush, that he turned against it once the war started. That’s not owning your bad vote on Iraq. That’s being dishonest with the electorate.

SK: It’s the same thing with Mike Bloomberg on stop and frisk where he says, “Hey, it kind of devolved into something bad.” It’s like, no, you oversaw stop and frisk, and doubled and tripled down every chance you got. Don’t just say it kind of took on a bad life of its own. You did that.

MH: Yeah. I mean, back during the 2014 Gaza bombing, if I remember correctly, Bernie was getting booed in town halls, because he was, you know, repeating pro-Israel tropes about, you know, the need to defend themselves from Hamas. That’s why they’re bombing Gaza. He’s moved on from that. To be fair to Bernie last night, he’s calling Benjamin Netanyahu a racist and going out of his way to defend the rights of Palestinians. So you know, evolution is a good thing as long as you own your old bad views. Before we run out of time, Shaun, one of the big concerns that Democratic voters tell pollsters they do have is about the age of a candidate. It does come up in polls that they’re not comfortable with an older candidate. Bernie Sanders is 78. He’ll be 79, if he wins the presidency. He’ll be the oldest person to ever ascend to the office of president of the United States. How worried are you about the age factor? I mean, he talked tonight about the importance of energizing people and bringing energy to the campaign. You know, he’s an old dude who had a heart attack, who’s getting attacked over medical records, who came on this show, and wouldn’t guarantee to me that he will run two terms. How worried are you about the age angle?

SK: I’m not worried about it. But I do understand people saying, Hey, is it an issue? Like, we’re running a campaign for president of the United States and so people have every right to kind of put each candidate including Bernie, kind of through the grinder and say like, “Hey, is he healthy? Is he fit? Is he prepared to do this?” And all I could — I’ve never been paid by this campaign. I’m a complete volunteer supporter. All I can say is from all of my history with Bernie. He has, like boundless energy. And I think it kind of shows in the movement that he’s built, the schedule that he keeps, the events that he leads, you know, it’s fair for people to ask questions about his health. I felt good actually about the medical records that he released. I thought they were thorough enough for me, for many doctors who I’ve seen come out and say, these records were thorough.

I don’t have a problem with people having questions about it. Like the role is so important that for me, I have to balance out probably 25 different things that matter to me about each candidate. And so I think for people it’s fair, like if that’s the main thing that concerns you, well, then that should impact your vote. For me, I think he’s healthy. I think his mental fitness is there. I don’t think you’ve ever heard anybody question his intellectual acuity, his ability to think through the issues. But as far as people saying like, Hey, is age a factor? I don’t have a problem with people having that question.

MH: I guess on the health front, he didn’t help himself with the whole full disclosure, which means different things to different people. A lot of people don’t think what he’s released is full disclosure. But before we run out of time, I just want to throw forward. The South Carolina primary is coming up. That’s why the debate was in South Carolina last night. If Joe Biden wins South Carolina and he pledged on the debate stage last night, he will win South Carolina. Is he back in the race?

SK: I think so. Yeah, I think South Carolina is a huge deal for Joe Biden. I think he absolutely has to win like, you know, if he loses South Carolina, I really don’t see a path forward for him. I think if Bernie wins South Carolina, I think it’s a huge upset.

MH: Oh, yeah.

SK: I’ve been there to campaign. His team is working around the clock there on the ground. When Bernie started in South Carolina, he was down almost 25 points. Now in many polls he’s within the margin of error. I think Bernie has kind of a puncher’s chance of winning in South Carolina. I think it’s going to be hard. We’re going to fight for every last vote. Biden is the favorite there. He’s kind of put all of his eggs in the South Carolina basket. And if he wins, I think it’ll be close. But he has to win there. And if he does win, yeah, I think he lives to fight another day.

MH: He’ll get a massive media boost as well because as we discussed earlier, he’s graded on a curve. Him winning one will be the equivalent of Bernie winning two or three. But let me just ask you this final question, can this party, especially the elite in this party, especially the Democratic establishment that Bernie himself attacked on Twitter the other day, can it really get behind Sanders if he is the undeniable, undisputed nominee of the party? Because no matter how good or popular a candidate Bernie Sanders may be, no matter how good you may think he is, he simply cannot defeat Donald Trump in November if he does not have a united party behind him.

SK: I think he can. Yeah, I think —

MH: You think he can win even with a divided Democratic Party?

SK: Well, I think the primaries are always divisive in some kinds of ways. Like, you know, I’ve been voting in American presidential election since the year 2000. And sometimes the candidates I’ve supported have won and sometimes they’ve lost. They’ve always been amazingly contentious, and we forget how ugly 2008 was really, between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and even Joe Biden when he was in the race. Like those campaigns, the Clinton and Obama campaigns were at each other’s throats. They were super dirty and the same questions were being asked like, can these two groups ever get together? I’ve seen over the past week, several United States Senators who are moderate to conservative Democrats come out and say that they feel good about Bernie, that they would support Bernie if he won the nomination.

I think people will come around and I think it’s a huge part of the responsibility that is on Bernie, is on this campaign to win people over. And so we’re not there yet, like, I think it’s going to continue to be contentious for the next couple of months. My best guess is that this is probably going to go deep into May or June. And there’s a lot of work to do between now and then but it’s going to be on Bernie. And then if Bernie wins the nomination, a lot of people are going to have to put ego aside in the way that he did for Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, Bernie campaigned all over the country, sometimes doing even more events for Hillary Clinton than Hillary was doing for herself. And if he can do that for Hillary, my hope is that people would end up doing that for Bernie and I think they will.

MH: Shaun, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining me on Deconstructed.

SK: Yeah, thank you, man. Good to talk to you always.

[Music interlude.]

MH: That was Shaun King, who remember is a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign. On this show, on Deconstructed, we’ve had everyone from Tom Steyer to Pete Buttigieg, from Beto O’Rourke to Julian Castro on the show, and we’ll continue pushing for guests from across the spectrum and from the various different campaigns as we approach election day later this year.

But that’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much! See you next week after Super Tuesday.

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