President Donald Trump and his top political advisers were huddling in the Oval Office earlier this month discussing the state of the Democratic primary when they arrived at an increasingly pressing topic: What to do about Bernie Sanders?
Sanders was surging, and some of the Trump advisers were salivating at the thought of a self-described democratic socialist as their general election opponent. As the president listened, they argued for taking steps to elevate him in the primary to boost his prospects.
But others warned that Sanders wouldn’t necessarily be the pushover he might seem. They told the president, who was joined in the meeting by top officials including campaign manager Brad Parscale and pollster Tony Fabrizio, that the Vermont senator’s authenticity and populist appeal could draw some of the blue-collar voters who propelled the president to the White House.
With the Iowa caucuses less than a week away, Trump advisers and supporters are split over whether to wage an effort to bolster Sanders. While proponents think Sanders would be an ideal opponent, others are wary that the liberal firebrand could make for a dynamic challenger — with the ability to make inroads in the Rust Belt states likely to decide the outcome of the election.
“It’s a big mistake for Trump supporters to assume that if Bernie Sanders gets the nomination there’s no chance somehow he can win,” said Matt Schlapp, a prominent Trump backer who heads the American Conservative Union.
Schlapp stressed that he thought Trump would win regardless but the party shouldn’t expect it to be guaranteed if his opponent is Sanders.