Bernie Sanders Takes A Page From Hillary Clinton's Playbook To Help His Former Foe

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator and one-time primary scourge of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, is now on the stump for his former foe, telling voters to “forget about” her unpopularity. The move is something of a departure for Sanders, who ran on a platform of political revolution during the primaries, rejecting Clintonian “pragmatism." Now, Sanders seems to be embracing it, breaking down this election in a whole new way.

During the heated Democratic primary, in which Sanders posed a significant challenge to Clinton’s long-presumed waltz to the nomination, much was made of the contrast between Clinton as the “pragmatic” choice and Sanders as the “revolutionary.” Many establishment Democrats worried about the viability of a Sanders nomination, especially with the threat of a Donald Trump presidency.

Sanders’ campaign promises read like a fantasy list of progressive policies: nationalized health care, $15-an-hour minimum wage, pulverizing the big banks into mulch. While few believed he’d be able to implement them in his theoretical presidency, his presence in the primary did move Clinton significantly to the left.

Yet, the Vermont senator seemed to ditch the idealism for getting down to brass tacks at a rally in support of Clinton on Thursday. Sanders’ displayed a newfound tone of realpolitik, taking a no-nonsense view of the current state of the election as he urged voters to look beyond the two big personalities at the top of the tickets.

“I read the polls. I understand that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump are particularly popular. I get that,” he told voters in Dearborn, Michigan. “But forget about that for a moment. Take a hard look at the agendas of the campaign, what these candidates stand for.”

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He went on to reject the extent to which the election has become a personality contest, saying, “This campaign is not about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. It is about you and your families and your kids.”

It was a bold statement from a former Clinton political opponent that gets at a core issue in modern presidential politics: the likability question. Clinton has wrestled with the “likability” issue since 2008 in her first bid for the Democratic nomination, and has moved heaven and earth since (and made a Broad City cameo) to make herself more likable.

But Sanders’ exhortation that voters to look past personality may be one of his most revolutionary appeals yet — while weirdly also being pragmatic. If voters made up their minds on substance, not style, it’s hard to imagine how Trump would have come as far as he has.

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Sanders message almost certainly won’t resonate with Trump die-hards, or even more moderate Republicans who’ve decided to support Trump on the basis of their hate for Clinton. But for those voters who are hesitating because they just don’t like her, Sanders’ phrasing might be the rationale that helps them vote for sanity, and save the country from utter idiocy.