What’s a moderate Republican — that is, most Jewish Republicans — to do?
With Donald Trump and Ted Cruz ascendant, moderate hopes have flitted from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio and now to John Kasich. In fact, however, there’s only one hope for moderate Republicans: Bernie Sanders.
Let me explain.
First, Rubio is no moderate. On issues of national security, he would bring back the use of torture, reoccupy Iraq, and increase government surveillance of Americans. On women’s equality, Rubio would ban abortion in all cases, with no exceptions for rape or incest, and he would appoint Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, which right now hangs in the 5–4 balance. Unlike most Republican senators, Rubio opposed the Violence Against Women Act.
He has also promised to roll back all of President Obama’s executive orders protecting LGBT people from discrimination, and to appoint justices who will overturn marriage equality — another 5–4 issue. In 2010, the arch-right-wing Family Research Council endorsed Rubio for Senate, and in 2012 Rubio recorded robocalls for the National Organization for Marriage, the leading opponent of same-sex marriage.
On economic issues, Rubio would, astonishingly, increase the wealth gap from its already record-high levels by giving the top 1% of taxpayers another tax break, and totally eliminate taxes on capital gains. That’s right: People who work for a living would still pay 15–30% of their income in taxes, but people who have the resources to invest for a living would pay zilch. In fact, over half of his proposed gigantic tax cut would go to the top 5% of earners.
And despite the fact that deregulation caused the 2008 economic crisis, Rubio favors a new round of deregulation, eliminating even the weak Dodd-Frank rules passed in the wake of the crisis.
On issues of racial justice, Rubio supports voter suppression efforts, including overbroad voter purges and the elimination of early voting, which have been shown to disproportionately affect minority communities while not preventing any fraud at all. Meanwhile, that tax break for the super-rich is so large that it would further shred the social safety net.
Finally, Rubio is a climate change denier, refusing to acknowledge the human role in global warming, the greatest existential threat our country (and world) currently faces. So much for moderation.
But Kasich isn’t much of a solution either. He, too, is an extreme social conservative, and, right now at least, he lacks money and the ground game to make a credible run.
There is, however, one hope for moderates: that a Trump/Sanders, Cruz/Sanders or Rubio/Sanders general election match-up gets former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg into the race as an independent.
In other words, the best strategy for a moderate is to vote for Bernie Sanders.
Think about it. If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, not only will Bloomberg not run, Clinton might well win the general election. But if Sanders is the nominee, victory is ensured for either Bloomberg or the Republican candidate.
If Bloomberg wins, he’d be the first non-major-party president, and the first quasi-Republican to not be beholden to either of the GOP’s two bases: the know-nothing populists or the Bible-thumping evangelists.
This would be unprecedented in many ways. For a generation now, the Republican Party’s dirty little secret is that without these two wingnut constituencies, it’s a tiny rump party of neo-cons and fiscal conservatives that would never win an election. Since Nixon and his Southern Strategy, moderate Republicans have dog-whistled just enough about Willie Horton and Barack Hussein Obama to keep the racists in line, and thrown enough anti-women and anti-gay bones to the Christian right to keep them aboard as well. Until this year, the hounds were thus appeased.
Bloomberg would be the first somewhat-conservative since Eisenhower to be free of them entirely.
But, my moderate Republican friends might object, what if Sanders actually wins?
To them, as well as to my Berner friends, I say: Don’t worry. The only reason Sanders comes close to the leading Republicans in head-to-head opinion polls is that, unlike us political junkies, most people have no idea who he is. Hard to believe, but most people outside of a few states are way more interested in the new Beyonce video than in the election.
But they do know some things. As of last June, only 7% of Americans said they would not vote for an African-American or Jewish candidate. And yet fully 50% said they would not vote for a socialist — even more than those who said they’d never vote for an atheist (40%), which Sanders also basically is.
Moreover, Democratic and Republican voters agree on the top four issues in the campaign: terrorism/security, the economy, unemployment/jobs and health care/Obamacare.
Sanders is a disaster on the first issue; one attack by the Islamic State group in the United States, and voters will flock to anyone who doesn’t fumble the answers to questions about it.
On the second and third issues, 52% of Americans say taxes are too high, while 42% say they’re about right. Only 6% agree with Sanders that taxes are too low.
And on the fourth issue, over 40% of Americans think Obamacare goes too far, yet Sanders wants to go even further, to a single-payer system that would require new taxes on the middle class and truly socialized medicine, complete with “death panels” and, somehow, the end of private health insurance.
So don’t worry; voting for Sanders will not make him the next president. On the contrary, if he becomes the Democratic nominee, it’ll guarantee that either the Republican candidate or Michael Bloomberg wins the White House.
And if Rubio or Trump (forget Cruz) ekes out a victory in a three-way race against an independent and a socialist, well, maybe he’ll have enough of a mandate not to be crazy. If nothing else, Rubio has demonstrated that his positions shift like the weathervane in Jeb Bush’s SuperPAC’s ads against him. So he might move toward the center, if it suits him to do so.
One final bonus for Jewish Republicans: They get to vote for landsmen the whole cycle through. Sanders now, Bloomberg in November. Considering how bad things have looked lately for the dying breed of moderate Republicans, it’s enough to make you say: Gevalt!
Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.