Bernie Sanders’ takeover of the Democratic Party looks increasingly unstoppable — a cause for concern for Democrats nationwide and in Florida, where many Hispanic voters still have haunting memories of life under communism.
In a preview of Tuesday night’s debate chaos, Florida Democrats slammed Sanders for praising Fidel Castro in a recent interview and called on the senator to be more mindful before praising the “murderous tyrant,” the Washington Examiner reported. Sanders doubled down on his controversial stance while on stage in South Carolina.
“I’m hoping that in the future, Senator Sanders will take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D).
Florida Dems slam Sanders on Castro
Sanders is the undisputed frontrunner after crushing the competition in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, leaving party elites panicked and down-ballot Democrats anxious about being associated with a radical socialist. He gave his rivals inside and outside the party new material with which to attack him just days before South Carolina’s debate, when he gave measured praise to Castro’s communist regime: “When Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did? He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
Sanders’ comments met a sharp reaction from Democrats in Florida, which is home to the largest population of Cuban immigrants in the United States. A slim majority of Cubans in Florida voted for Donald Trump in 2016, compared with some 70% of non-Cuban Hispanics who voted for Hillary Clinton.
Shalala slammed Sanders for praising a “murderous tyrant,” and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) called his comments “unacceptable.”
“As the first South American immigrant member of Congress who proudly represents thousands of Cuban Americans, I find Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments on Castro’s Cuba absolutely unacceptable,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “The Castro regime murdered and jailed dissidents, and caused unspeakable harm to too many South Florida families. To this day, it remains an authoritarian regime that oppresses its people, subverts the free press, and stifles a free society.”
Bernie remains defiant
Unease about Sanders’ electability in Florida — and the impact his nomination would have on down-ballot Democrats in the state — has found expression more widely in establishment panic about his chances against Donald Trump at the national level. Democratic candidates treated Sanders like the central threat on the debate stage Tuesday night, grilling him on his Cuba comments and attacking his policies as too radical to galvanize a winning coalition of voters.
Sanders has presented his socialism as being no different than the public policy of countries like Denmark, but his comments on Cuba provided rivals with a fresh opportunity to raise doubts about his true intentions. Is Sanders promising “democratic socialism,” or does he have a soft spot for revolutionary communism?
The senator from Vermont struck a defiant tone, arguing that former President Barack Obama had made similar comments praising Cuba’s social programs while insisting that there is nothing extreme about his agenda. But former Vice President Joe Biden fired back that Obama “never embraced an authoritarian regime,” while Pete Buttigieg warned that Sanders would lose to Trump and cost Democrats both houses of Congress.
“We’re not going to win these critical, critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime,” Buttigieg said.
Whether Sanders’ comments result in the loss of significant support in Florida’s primaries on March 17 or in the November general election, the socialist appears favored to clinch the Democratic nomination. Whatever happens, the Democratic Party will never be the same.