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All 24 Democratic candidates for president market themselves as the only solution for beating President Trump next November, but only one believes the way to ensure victory is by embracing democratic socialism.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders offered a full-throated defense of democratic socialism in a speech at George Washington University in Washington on Wednesday afternoon.
Many of Sanders’ proposals, including Medicare for all, free public college and a $15 minimum wage, fall under the umbrella of democratic socialism. Those policies were the centerpieces of Sanders’ 2016 campaign. He gave a similar speech in November 2015 defending democratic socialism.
Since his previous run for president, “socialism” has become more popular. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 37% of Americans viewed socialism favorably, an increase of percentage points. Conversely, 47% of Democrats viewed capitalism positively, down from 56% in 2016. And while socialism was significantly less popular than capitalism and free enterprise, it was the only one of those three that increased in popularity nationally between 2016 and 2018.
Adding more wind to Sanders’ sails, earlier this week a Harris poll found that 55% of women between the ages of 18 and 54 would prefer to live in a socialist country over a capitalist country.
Socialism is still taboo to many. According to Gallup, Americans’ positive views of the system have consistently leveled between 35% and 39% over the past 10 years. Mr. Trump has wielded the label as a weapon, often linking Democrats to socialism on Twitter and to the press.
While Sanders embraced the term Wednesday in Washington, socialism of any kind is not something he directly references on the trail. He made no mention of democratic socialism in his campaign kickoff remarks in March, nor in his campaign announcement video.
Last month, at a senior citizens town hall in Henderson, Nevada, a woman wished for Sanders to be more direct.
“Please stress that socialism is not communism. That’s very, very important that you stress that,” she said.
The senator replied, “Thank you. I will, as a matter of fact.”
Some of Sanders’ challengers rivals for the nomination explicitly reject his embrace of the democratic socialist label.
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney told CBS News that Sanders is being “intellectually dishonest” pitching democratic socialism.
“I’m a full-throated capitalist,” Delaney said. “What the United States of America is, is a free market economy. Where capitalism is able to work its magic, which is to innovate and create jobs.”
Earlier this month, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper was raucously booed at the California Democratic Party State Convention after saying, “Socialism is not the answer.”
Four days later, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, himself a candidate, defended Hickenlooper.
“If John would have said that speech here [on Wall Street] he probably would have gotten a big cheer from these capitalists here,” Bennet told the news Cheddar. “It’s different from San Francisco.”
“There’s a Twitter universe out there that has move extremely far left. I think that is different from the base of the party,” Bennet said.
Neither Hickenlooper, Bennet nor Delaney have surpassed 1% support in any national poll this year.
While Sanders’ defense of democratic socialism clearly distinguishes himself from moderates running — including front-runner Vice President Joe Biden — it also gives the senator a chance to stake his claim on progressive turf that will be threatened by candidates like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which has recently enjoyed a bump in polling.