To be clear, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is no President Trump. The latter’s authoritarian, cruel and racist personality is without match in American politics. That said, Sanders shares with Trump the proclivity to make wild accusations when things do not go his way and to inflame, rather than reduce, tensions.

The latest Sanders conspiracy theory is that somehow the debate was rigged — specifically that the audience, which booed him at one point, was stacked. Asked by an MSNBC reporter if he was “almost arguing or debating with the crowd,” Sanders insisted, “You know how much a ticket to the debate cost? … $1,750. … Most working people that I know don’t spend $1,700 to get a ticket to a debate.” That was false.

The South Carolina Democratic Party was forced to respond to allegations it had sold tickets to rich donors, the sort of people who might boo Sanders:

What Sanders was likely referring to was the fact that the Charleston County Democratic Party allowed people to sponsor the event with options ranging from $1,750 to $3,200, which included a ticket for the debate as well as access to other “First in the South” events. Whether Sanders’s mischaracterization was a mistake on his part, citing incorrect information that would justify his spotty performance, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the press and voters is not clear. What is clear is that he often results to ad hominem attacks (the audience is made up of fat cats, the “corporate media” is out to get him, etc. ) as do his staff (who invariably take their cues from the candidate).

All politicians look for excuses, but no one in the field of Democratic presidential candidates is willing to stoke rumors and animus toward the press the way he does. The Post reported on Sanders’s being briefed months earlier that Russia may be trying to help his campaign, raising the question why he had not revealed the information. He retorted, “Because I go to many intelligence briefings which I don’t reveal to the public.” He added sarcastically, “It was The Washington Post? Good friends.”

Likewise, Sanders’s penchant for picking fights — be it with pro-Israel Jewish Democrats or with Democrats concerned about freedom in repressive regimes — rather than move to smooth over divides was evident during the debate and its aftermath. There was this exchange:

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS: You’ve praised the Chinese Communist Party for lifting more people out of extreme poverty than any other country. You also have a track record of expressing sympathy for socialist governments in Cuba and in Nicaragua. Can Americans trust that a democratic socialist president will not give authoritarians a free pass?
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: I have opposed authoritarianism all over the world and I was really amazed at what Mayor Bloomberg just said a moment ago. He said that the Chinese government is responsive to the Politburo, but who the hell is the Politburo responsive to? Who elects the Politburo? You’ve got a real dictatorship there? Of course you have a dictatorship in Cuba. What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba, that Cuba made progress on education. Yes, I think —
SANDERS: Really? Really? Literacy programs are bad?
FORMER SOUTH BEND, IND. MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: Yes, because there’s no comparing those two [countries].
SANDERS: What Barack Obama said is they made great progress on education and health care. That was Barack Obama. Occasionally —
BIDEN: I talked to Barack Obama —
SANDERS: Excuse me, occasionally it might be a good idea to be honest about American foreign policy, and that includes the fact that America has overthrown governments all over the world in Chile, in Guatemala, in Iran. And when dictatorships, whether it is the Chinese or the Cubans do something good, you acknowledge that. But you don’t have to trade love letters with them.

All he did there was aggravate worries from not just Florida Democrats but all Democrats that he will be portrayed as a “blame America first” Democrat. Buttigieg twisted the knife later: “I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump, with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s, and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s.”

On Sanders’s broadside attack on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference — and implicitly on the scores of Democrats who attend each year — he had an opening to ameliorate concerns:

MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS: You recently called a very prominent, well-known American Israel lobby a platform for, quote, “bigotry.” What would you say to American Jews who might be concerned you’re not, from their perspective, supportive enough of Israel? And specifically, sir, would you move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv?
SANDERS: Let me just — the answer is, it’s something that we would take into consideration.
GARRETT: Which would...
SANDERS: But here — excuse me. But here is the point. I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that, right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.
And I happen to believe — I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.
We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians and the Americans. And in answer to your question, that will come within the context of bringing nations together in the Mideast.

AIPAC supports a two-state solution, so why was Sanders fanning tensions raised by his original comment? One can only conclude this is what he does: He stirs and riles up his base, perfectly glad to attack his own party at the expense of fellow Democrats.

On Wednesday, 347 rabbis from a wide range of religious and political perspectives issued a letter condemning his remarks. “As strong supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship and AIPAC’s role in advancing it, we reject Senator Bernie Sanders’ outrageous comment accusing AIPAC of fostering bigotry,” the rabbis began. “AIPAC’s mission is one that we and our congregants care deeply about. Through AIPAC, we lobby Congress to support our democratic ally and strengthen the long-standing bipartisan support for a partnership that benefits both nations.” They continued, “AIPAC is one of the last remaining vehicles in American politics that proactively seeks to bring Americans from across the political spectrum together to achieve a common goal. … We embrace the opportunity to be challenged to think constructively, and appreciate that people on the other end of the political divide are doing this sacred work alongside us.” They concluded, “I am proud of my congregants who attend the AIPAC conference. They are fulfilling their duty as Americans to participate in the political process together with Democrats, Republicans, Jews, Christians, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, progressives, veterans, students, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and many others.”

Sanders is not about bridging divides. He seeks to create conflict so as to inflame, to wade into conspiracies and unsubstantiated speculation to stir paranoia and mistrust. Is this what Democrats really want?

Seven of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates shared the stage in Charleston, S.C., on Feb. 25 in the last debate ahead of the South Carolina primary. (The Washington Post)
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