A Socialist for President? Good luck with that.

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Lance Dutson: You'll have to excuse me for chuckling, Steven, but after all the abuse Republicans have taken for our presidential primary, I'm pretty amused by what's going on with Team Democrat these days.

Self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders is beating Hillary by 19 points in New Hampshire and some polls even have him leading in Iowa. I remember when Sanders was the punchline of a hundred different political jokes. Now he's poised to be your candidate. What is going on?

Steven Biel: Correction: Bernie's a *democratic* socialist. Big difference!

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group MoveOn.org. He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.
www.StevenBielStrategies.com

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.
www.RedHillStrategies.com

Bernie has run a great campaign, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. He's still far behind in the states after Iowa and New Hampshire, and not one actual vote has been cast. This race has a long way to go.

Lance:
What I find fascinating is that both primaries are displaying the exact same dynamic. Republicans and Democrats have both had deal-with-the-devil relationships with their fringe elements, riling them up and using them to gain electorally.

But now the bases have taken over, giving us a xenophobic madman on our side and a deluded socialist with incredibly poor math skills on yours.

Steven: I strongly object to you lumping together Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Trump is a reality show clown running a platform of anti-immigrant bigotry. Bernie has more than three decades of experience in elective office and is running on kitchen table issues like the rising cost of college and declining real wages.

As for Bernie's math skills, he's laid out exactly how he'll pay for his proposals. Meanwhile, Republicans are proposing ten trillion dollars in new tax breaks for the rich--with no plan to pay for it whatsoever.

Lance: You're right that Bernie has been around a long time. But it's Bernie's extensive track record that's feeding the GOP base freakout.

Working class GOP voters understand that things aren't free, and that when it comes to government and taxes, it's a zero-sum game. You can't give everyone everything, and if Bernie's handouts go into effect, people who actually work for a living will end up with less.

On the positive side for Republicans, if Sanders does win the nomination, we'll win 50 states.

Steven:
Bernie's two big proposals are single payer health care and tuition-free public college, and in both cases middle class families would come out way ahead. Yes, taxes would go up a bit for some folks, but the savings in health care premiums and student loans would be far greater.

I'll admit that the "socialist" label would be a significant problem for Bernie if he got the nomination, and I wish he'd stop using the term. But let's not kid ourselves. Secretary Clinton is still the heavy favorite.

Lance: O.K. let's talk about Hillary then, because she's got her own problems.

On one hand, she's been a U.S. Senator, activist First Lady, and Secretary of State. That's as good a resume as anyone to hold the office.

Her problem is that people just don't trust her. She's like your party's version of Richard Nixon. Cold, calculating, inhumanly ambitious.

And her timing is just so bad. 2008 was Obama's year, and now she represents everything the Democratic base is against: Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, D.C. elitism, big money in politics.

So now an elderly socialist from Vermont with the dimensionless charisma of a mad scientist has ridden to the top of the Democratic Party simply because he's NOT Hillary Clinton. It's truly amazing.

Steven: Wow. "Cold, calculating, inhumanly ambitious?" A little sexist, are we? Why not just come right out and say she's a bossy broad who should stay home in the kitchen?

That's the kind of double standard--criticizing a woman for qualities that would be universally praised in a man--that makes it so much harder for a woman to run for president.

And it's why I totally reject the idea that she's somehow "blowing it" because she's not coasting to the nomination without breaking a sweat. Whoever becomes our first woman president will have to be an immense, once-in-a-lifetime political talent. And no woman has come anywhere near as close as she is now.

Lance:
For starters, I just compared her to a MALE president. Cold calculating and inhumanly ambitious--those are traits Americans have been criticizing cisgendered male Richard Nixon about for more than 40 years.

Come to think of it, I applaud Mrs. Clinton for breaking the glass ceiling of corruption by proving that women can be crooks just like men.

You hint at a valid point though. I think many Americans would like to see a woman president finally. But it appears most Democrats would rather see an old white guy as president than a woman.

Steven: Boy are you excited are about the idea of running against "Hammer-and-Sickle" Sanders! But again, you're getting way head of yourself.

Yes, we're having a competitive primary. And I for one think competitive primaries are good for a party. You get to debate new ideas, and the winner comes out with the glow of a proven vote-getter. (Actually, Mike Michaud could have benefitted from a practice round in the 2014 governor's race.)

We have two (sorry, Marty) experienced public servants debating serious issues. Compared to the name-calling freakshow on the Republican side, I think we look great.

Lance: O.K., time to get down to brass tacks. Are we looking at a Hillary win in Iowa and a Bernie win in New Hampshire?

Steven:
Yes, that'd be my prediction. But Bernie could easily sweep both states. Iowa has never been Clinton country, and New Hampshire is Bernie's next door neighbor. And both states skew heavily towards the white, liberal, college-educated voters who tend to lean Sanders.

In the end, the question is whether Sanders can close the gap among the African-American and Latino voters who are so crucial after Iowa and New Hampshire. Clinton is crushing him with those voters, and unless that changes she will be the nominee.

Lance: You heard it here first, everyone. Next week, we'll make our predictions for the Republican side.