The 1990 race for Vermont's sole seat in the U.S. House was an unusual one. The eventual Democratic nominee, Dolores Sandoval, earned only 3 percent of the vote, easily overwhelmed by the first-term incumbent Republican, Peter Smith. But Smith, too, was beaten in the general election, thanks to an independent candidate named Bernie Sanders, who was then serving as the mayor of Burlington.
The Boston Globe outlined the contest in September of that year, through the lens of the Democratic primary, in which Sandoval triumphed:
Dolores Sandoval, a college professor who generated a lot of heat by advocating the legalization of drugs, is ahead by about 250 votes. Her opponent, Peter Diamondstone, a radical who had blasted the Democratic Party in the past, is seeking a recount.
Neither Sandoval nor Diamondstone is believed to stand much chance against the two principal contenders, incumbent Rep. Peter Smith and former Burlington Mayor Bernard Sanders, a socialist.
Sanders's win that year moved him to Capitol Hill, setting him up to eventually run for and win election to the Senate as an independent and to national attention this year as the surprisingly strong challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Over the past 12 months, Sanders has repeatedly disparaged the policy positions of Donald Trump, using the businessman as a punching bag and point of contrast.
Rather amazingly, he did the same thing in that 1990 House race.
On Sept. 16, the four candidates — Sandoval, Diamondstone, Smith and Sanders — participated in a debate at Temple Sinai in South Burlington. There, Sanders used Trump as a point of contrast between what the media should be covering and what it was covering.
I remember teaching at Hamilton College in the spring and having kids do research papers on how much time Time and Newsweek put in to the coverage of third-world starvation as opposed to the life and times of Donald Trump. And you know what the answer was? This was before his divorce, when he really got the news! Far more attention was paid to Donald Trump than to the holocaust -- and I use that word wisely in a temple -- in the third world right now.
This wasn't Sanders drawing a policy contrast with Trump, since Trump, at that point, was not in politics. This was Sanders using Trump in the way we might now use Kim Kardashian — as an example of the sort of fluff news that can distract us from more important, weighty subjects. It's a complaint that has had a resonance of its own this election cycle with Trump's opponents repeatedly complaining that he got an undue share of media attention, simply by virtue of being Donald Trump. That's a suggestion that is hard to dispute.
The video (spotted, we'll note, by the Huffington Post's Sam Stein) is one of many moments during this election cycle in which we wish we owned a time machine. Head back 26 years, show up at the debate and ask Sanders a follow-up question: When you come within a hair's breadth of facing off against Trump in the 2016 general election for president, will you reiterate this objection?
Talk about a tricky debate question.