Not so long ago, Donald Trump seemed obsessed with just one of the Democrats vying to replace him: Joe Biden. Over the past year, as the former vice president became the front-runner, Trump’s campaign spent about $270,000 on Facebook ads targeting Biden—more than it spent against other top candidates. Then Biden began to collapse and Bernie Sanders started to rise. Trump’s social-media ads demonizing “Sleepy Joe” tailed off. Yet thus far, there’s been no appreciable pickup in anti-Sanders ads. It’s as if Trumpworld might want to go easy on Sanders.
It does. Team Trump views Sanders as the weakest candidate left on the Democratic side, and isn’t eager to do anything to impede his rise, several of the president’s past and present political advisers told me. They seem to see Sanders as a no-lose proposition: The president wins whether the senator from Vermont captures the nomination or not.
Should Sanders prevail, Trump’s strategy will be to spotlight his democratic-socialist identity in an attempt to make voters fear he’ll take away their freedom. (Trump will try to brand any Democratic nominee a socialist—Team Trump just thinks it’ll be easier with the guy whose self-description includes the word.) If Sanders falters, Trump will argue that he was unfairly robbed of a nomination he earned. Trump has long stoked suspicions of an anti-Sanders conspiracy within the Democratic Party, for what seems to be two purposes: leaving Sanders’s following so disillusioned that they stay home on Election Day, or perhaps persuading them to switch sides and vote Republican. Sanders may not need Trump, but for the time being, Trump needs Sanders.