It once seemed unimaginable, but a proven socialist looks quite likely to win the 2020 presidential election.

No, I’m not talking about that socialist. I’m referring to the one who already occupies the White House.

For three years, “Never Trump” Republicans told us that President Trump was so despicable, so corrupt, so contemptuous of the rule of law that they’d hold their noses and vote for anyone the Democrats nominated to challenge him. Lately, many Never Trumpers have become Hardly-Ever Trumpers, deciding that one Democratic candidate is beyond the pale: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the self-proclaimed democratic socialist.

To be sure, many of Sanders’s policies are sloppy and slapdash. He demands unhelpful purity tests and too often slanders experts and independent analysts as “political opponents” out to get him. His possible drag on moderate down-ballot Democratic candidates is worrisome as well.

But if you oppose Sanders because you fear a socialist president, ask yourself: Would that be so different from what we have now?

Trump loves to red-bait “Crazy Bernie.” Unlike his preferred boogeymen (and boogeywomen) on the far left, though, Trump has actually implemented anti-market, Soviet-style, centrally planned policies, and he has used the power of the state to punish political enemies. He has merely chosen different beneficiaries (and victims) of his Big Government bigfooting.

In some ways, in fact, Trump has proved himself a more successful socialist than Sanders is likely ever to be.

Many of Sanders’s core “socialist” agenda items, after all, are opposed by not only Republicans but also by moderate Democrats and even Democratic leadership. Trump, meanwhile, has brainwashed his supposedly free-market party into backing a command-and-control-style economy. When it’s commanded-and-controlled by Trump, anyway.

With nary a peep from his party, Trump has tried to prop up pet industries, such as coal, by government fiat. Indeed, other Republicans have since copied his strategy at the state level.

Likewise, in a move that once would have had Republicans screaming bloody murder, Trump has slapped tariffs on virtually every major trading partner around the world to protect favored industries, such as steel. This not only failed to rejuvenate steel but also led to widespread retaliation, including tit-for-tat tariffs aimed at farm country, a key part of the Republican base.

Trump then decided even more central planning was in order. Again, his party didn’t stop him.

First, the president unilaterally decided to use taxpayer funds to bail out farmers hurt by his trade wars. When that didn’t work, he did it again. In a tweet Friday, he suggested that a third bailout might yet be necessary.

Already, Trump’s farmer trade bailouts are more than double the size of the 2009 auto bailout.

A decade ago — with the global economy on the verge of another depression — Republicans howled that this U.S. auto industry rescue package was “the leading edge of the Obama administration’s war on capitalism” and would set us on “the road toward socialism.”

Today, these same Republicans seem curiously unperturbed.

Republicans, too, once argued that we should encourage China to become more market-oriented. But Trump has demanded that China engage in even more centralized economic planning — through minimum purchase commitments of U.S. goods regardless of market conditions.

It’s as if the president is trying to provide proof of concept for President Dwight Eisenhower’s domino theory. Republicans’ response? Stand by and praise him.

Conservatives, likewise, complain that Sanders and his socialist allies wish to bloat budget deficits. Under Trump, of course, this has already happened. The deficit in fiscal 2019 was a whopping 48 percent higher than it was in fiscal 2017, thanks to GOP policies. And while “Crazy Bernie” does intend to jack up tax rates to (partly) offset his spending, Trump has raised some taxes on Americans, too — he’s just done it more regressively, through taxes on imports rather than income.

Trump’s version of socialism soaks the poor, not the rich.

If conservatives are genuinely frightened by Sanders’s proposed downward redistribution of wealth, they might consider the sort of redistribution practiced by Trump — in particular, the many ways Trump has used his office to redistribute taxpayer dollars into his own pocket. Just last week, during a tour of western states, Trump elected to fly his entourage back to his hotel in Las Vegas each night rather than stay in the other cities he was visiting. Whatever Sanders’s flaws, at least he doesn’t try to steal everything that’s not nailed down.

If you’re a Never Trumper worried that Sanders will take this country down the road to serfdom, beware: President Trump has already paved the path.

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