At what would be the peak of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, the U.S. intelligence community, using anonymous leaks to The Washington Post, dropped a devastating bomb on the Vermont Senator. “U.S. officials have told Sen. Bernie Sanders that Russia is attempting to help his presidential campaign as part of an effort to interfere with the Democratic contest,” the paper announced, citing “people familiar with the matter” whom the paper allowed to speak “on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.”
At the time of this perfectly timed leak, Sanders was on a major roll. He had effectively tied Pete Buttigieg for first place in the scandal-plagued Iowa caucus, in which an app developed and sold by Democratic Party operatives made it impossible to reliably count the votes, and then won the first primary in New Hampshire (Joe Biden finished fourth and fifth, respectively, declared all but dead by the punditocracy and Democratic donors).
The leak to The Post was published on February 21 — the day before Nevada was to hold its caucus, as polls showed Sanders with a sizeable lead in that state. The next day, Sanders had a blowout win, defeating Biden by twenty-two points and scoring what The New York Times described as “a major victory in the Nevada caucuses that demonstrated his broad appeal in the first racially diverse state in the presidential primary race and established him as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.” The Paper of Record added:
His triumph in Nevada, after strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, will propel him into next Saturday’s primary in South Carolina, and the Super Tuesday contests immediately thereafter, with a burst of momentum that may make it difficult for the still-fractured moderate wing of the party to slow his march.
But that intelligence leak, as designed, plagued him from that point forward, particularly heading into the South Carolina primary that would prove fatal to his presidential bid. At the time, Sanders himself seemed to acknowledge that the leak to The Post — a paper he had long attacked for its open hostility to him — was intended to cripple his candidacy. After exiting his plane on the day before the caucus, he was informed of the intelligence leak by the press on the tarmac, and he responded sarcastically, ridiculing its obvious purpose:
It is hard to overstate how damaging a leak like this would be for a politician seeking the Democratic Party nomination. Democratic voters for years had been fed a steady media diet of incessant xenophobic fear-mongering over Russia, elevating Vladimir Putin from a leader of a mid-sized regional power into the world’s most powerful and dastardly villain.
That Putin wanted Tump to win was one of the leading themes used by Democratic-Party-allied media outlets to attack Trump, rendering it crippling for Sanders to be similarly tied to Moscow, particularly given the perception that Putin would help Sanders because the Kremlin judged him to be the weakest candidate against the GOP president. Indeed, The Post article explicitly drew the Sanders/Trump comparison (emphasis added):
The disclosure of Russian assistance to Sanders follows a briefing to lawmakers last week in which a senior intelligence official said that Russia wants to see Trump reelected, viewing his administration as more favorable to the Kremlin’s interests, according to people who were briefed on the comments. . . . The prospect of two rival campaigns both receiving help from Moscow appears to reflect what intelligence officials have previously described as Russia’s broader interest in sowing division in the United States and uncertainty about the validity of American elections.
Reflecting his 2020 strategy of trying to appease the Democratic establishment in lieu of his more successful 2016 strategy of proudly positioning himself as its adversary, Sanders by this point had repeatedly echoed the maximalist conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia, leaving him with little room to maneuver once this Cold War tactic was predictably deployed against him. After suggesting the leak to The Post was intended to harm his campaign, he had no other options beyond sputtering with faux-toughness about how he would show Putin who was boss.
In other words — both prior to the leak and after — Sanders repeatedly validated rather than scorned the CIA’s Russia narrative (just as he did with the equally cynical Bernie Bro attacks). So it put him in a defensive crouch for the rest of the campaign, unable to explain why Putin — Public Enemy Number One among the Democratic Party base — was trying to help him win.
In the only debate held in South Carolina prior to that state’s primary, Michael Bloomberg wasted no time in using this leak, claiming to Sanders just minutes in that “Russia is helping you” win the nomination because the Kremlin viewed the socialist Senator as the weakest candidate to oppose Trump. Because Sanders had been championing the CIA’s Russiagate script against Trump for years, he had no defense when the intelligence community turned it against him and Bloomberg used it to attack him:
The rest is history. Biden destroyed Sanders in South Carolina. The entire Democratic establishment instantly snapped into line behind Biden in an effort to stop Sanders. Elizabeth Warren, fueled by millions in dark money from a Silicon Valley oligarch pumped into a pro-Warren SuperPAC, stayed in the race through Super Tuesday despite being unable to finish better than third place in any state including her own. Biden cruised to the nomination while Sanders was stuck in his defensive crouch, helpless against an intelligence leak and accompanying narrative that he himself had repeatedly endorsed.
The 2020 Democratic Party was hardly the first time Sanders has confronted the clandestine evils of the intelligence community. During his early political career, beginning with his two terms as Mayor of Burlington in the 1980s, he frequently denounced the CIA and other intelligence agencies, including when he returned from trips to Nicaragua and Cuba. There are few national figures in U.S. politics, if there are any, who know better than he about the true face of this permanent Washington power faction.
That is why it was so jarring to see him on Thursday mock the idea that there is such a thing as “the Deep State” — the very entity that did so much to help sink his 2020 campaign. As he did throughout 2019 and into 2020, the long-time Independent posted a tweet in which he sounded very much like a typical Democratic partisan, mouthing the MSNBC script about Trump even now that the election is decided, in the process ridiculing the idea of a “Deep State” (and, for good measure, also mocking the idea of “rigged elections” and “fake news”):
Trump’s rants about a “fraudulent election” are not a joke. They are the most significant attack against our democracy in history. If the election system’s “rigged,” if the media’s “fake,” if federal officials are part of a “deep state,” who can you trust? You got it. A dictator.— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 3, 2020
Let’s leave to the side the bizarre spectacle that Sanders is now mocking the idea of “fake news” after he himself has repeatedly insisted for years that corporate mainstream media outlets like The Washington Post are biased against him due to its ownership by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in the process provoking those media outlets to compare him to Trump in the way he attacks the press.
It’s somewhat difficult to understand how one can wage a “revolution” against the political establishment while delegitmizing the obviously true claim that establishment news outlets disseminate fake news against establishment enemies. The belief that establishment media outlets battle rather than disseminate Fake News is a hallmark of an establishmentarian, not an anti-establishment revolutionary.
Let us also leave to the side the sad willingness of Sanders to mock the idea that U.S. elections might be “rigged” given that the Democratic Party systematically cheated in 2016 to prevent him from defeating Hillary Clinton — to the point that the top five officials of the DNC were forced to resign when WikiLeaks published emails proving their corrupt rigging efforts. Even Elizabeth Warren and former DNC Chairwoman Donna Brazille acknowledged that the 2016 Democratic primary was “rigged” against Sanders — a claim he now apparently believes is the province only of dictators and fringe conspiracists.
The truly stunning part of Sanders’ performance here is the mockery aimed at those who believe that the U.S. is plagued by a “Deep State.” Apparently, as the Democratic establishment and mainstream media outlets have long preached, we are now to view murky intelligence officials who wield the dark arts in order to interfere in our domestic politics — like the kind who intervened in the 2020 Democratic Party primary to strategically leak the Kremlin’s supposed preference for Sanders at the exact right moment to injure his candidacy — merely as honorable “federal officials.”
That a Deep State lurks within and over the U.S. Government is now treated in establishment liberal circles as if it is some new right-wing conspiratorial concoction rather than what it is: a long-standing reality recognized long before Trump by political science scholarship, left-wing foreign policy critiques, and mainstream journalism.
This post-World-War-II truth of a U.S. Deep State entered mainstream discourse when Dwight Eisenhower used his 1961 Farewell Address to warn Americans that “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex” because, he said, “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
The war hero and five-star General had seen the Deep State up close and personal during his two terms as a Cold War President — prior to its explosive growth during the Vietnam War and in the wake of the 9/11 attack — causing him to lament that “this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience” and “the total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government.”
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