Bernie Sanders wants Republicans to believe he would be easy to beat in 2020.
Politico reported on Tuesday that Republicans in Congress watching Sanders are "practically cheering him on" in the Democratic presidential primary, arguing that a self-described democratic socialist cannot possibly defeat President Donald Trump in the general election.
"I would suggest they underestimate me at their own peril and I hope they do."
Sanders told Politico he is confident this view will backfire on the GOP come election time.
"I would suggest they underestimate me at their own peril and I hope they do," said the Vermont senator, who consistently leads Trump in hypothetical general election matchups.
In interviews with Politico, Republican Senate incumbents expressed confidence that a Sanders nomination would both ensure Trump's reelection and imperil the Democratic Party's narrow chances of taking back the Senate—or even add to the GOP's advantage in the chamber.
"If we can run a race against a person that's an out-of-the-closet socialist and promoting socialist ideas, it's a great contrast for us," said Sen. John Thune (R-N.D.).
Sen. Joni Ernst, who is up for reelection in 2020, said a Sanders nomination "would be good for us."
As Politico reported, Republicans' attitude toward Sanders is similar to Democrats' confidence that they would take the Senate and the presidency after Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016.
"Republicans could be making the same mistake Democrats made four years ago," Politico reported, "when Trump launched his presidential campaign and they began salivating over the prospect of a Senate sweep."
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Ella Mahony, assistant editor at Jacobin magazine and a National Political Committee member at the Democratic Socialists of America, echoed that historical point on Twitter:
Lots of overpaid smartasses also thought it would be great for HRC if Trump was the Republican nominee. https://t.co/rDGnAFdmVB
— ella mahony (@ella_mahony) May 7, 2019
David Sirota, Sanders' speechwriter, tweeted that there is "a long history of the establishment and GOP underestimating Bernie Sanders."
Theres a long history of the establishment & GOP underestimating @BernieSanders. Bernie unseated an incumbent to become mayor, unseated a GOP House incumbent & won a Senate seat that had been GOP for 140 yrs - and won it while being outspent in a state that often elects GOPers. pic.twitter.com/XqY0VtNU1n
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) May 7, 2019
Not every Republican is so certain Sanders would be easy to defeat in the general election.
"It is entirely possible that the American people would vote for an avowed socialist," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in an interview with Politico. "We are a closely divided country. If Bernie were the nominee, he could win."
Sanders told Politico that, contrary to the view of many in the GOP, a bold and unapologetic progressive agenda will bolster the Democratic Party's chances of taking back the Senate and the presidency in 2020.
"If you have strong progressive candidates we'll do just fine," Sanders said.