Wednesday night’s Democratic debate was the first of the campaign to include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the billionaire businessman wasted little time attacking new frontrunner Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who describes himself as a “democratic socialist.” In a discussion of Sanders’ proposal that would require companies to transition to 20 percent employee ownership, Bloomberg scoffed at the entire conversation as “ridiculous,” according to an account by The Washington Post.
Saying that the discussion itself would “make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected,” Bloomberg declared that the United States was not going to “throw out capitalism.”
“We tried that. Other countries tried,” the former mayor said. “That was called communism and it just didn’t work.”
Sanders responded, denying that he was advocating “communism” and stressing that his policies are actually examples of “democratic socialism.” But during his days as a political activist in Vermont, Sanders appeared to welcome the description of himself as a “communist,” according to a separate report.
“I don’t mind people coming up and calling me a communist,” Sanders said during a 1972 speech at a Vermont high school, as quoted by The Washington Examiner. “At least, they’re still alive.”
According to the Washington Examiner report, Sanders endorsed presidential candidates on the Socialist Workers Party ticket when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1980 and 1984. The SWP originated as a faction of the Communist Party in the U.S.
Sanders lashed back at Bloomberg’s “communism” remark, claiming that “we are living in many ways in a socialist society right now,” as quoted by ABC News.
The Vermont senator added that in his view, socialism exists in the U.S. “for the very rich,” while “rugged individualism” exists for the “poor.”
Whether Sanders’ policies are too “left-wing” to allow him to become “electable” in a one-on-one matchup with Trump has been a subject of debate in the 2020 Democratic campaign. On Wednesday, former Republican consultant Steve Schmidt — the 2008 campaign manager for Republican nominee John McCain — declared that nominating Sanders would be a “death sentence” for the Democratic Party, adding that the “theory that there is some great base of people yearning for socialism in the United States of America is a fever dream and a fantasy.”
The “communism” exchange was sparked by a proposed Sanders policy that would let company employees elect 45 percent of a corporation’s board of directors, in addition to requiring that companies move to 20 percent employee ownership.
Sanders’ campaign claimed that during the first hour of the debate, his supporters donated a total of nearly $300,000 from 15,218 individual donors — an average of approximately $20 per donation, according to the ABC News report.