Bernie Sanders earned quite a few mentions in the second round of Republican debates, which at the very least offers a measure of the extent to which the senator from Vermont has become a factor in the 2016 presidential race.
Sanders was not generally referred to by name, but his democratic socialism came up frequently enough.
Republicans in both debates on Wednesday night noted the fact the Democratic presidential race has been shaken up by “a socialist”—employing a term that at the Reagan Presidential Library is still considered a choice epithet.
“I’m delighted to be on this stage with some remarkable fellow Republicans,” announced former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee at the opening of the main debate. “None of us are a self-professed socialist.”
In the earlier “kids’ table” debate, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal noted how well Sanders is doing in the race for the Democratic nomination and told the crowd: “They have got a socialist that is gaining on Hillary Clinton. Folks, you can’t make that up. A socialist is doing well in the Democratic primary.”
Not all the references were entirely negative, however.
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham politely included Sanders on the list of Democrats who might become president. Arguing that Republicans must win the 2016 election in order to fill Supreme Court vacancies with right-wing judicial activists, Graham said, “To the Republicans, the biggest prize on the table in 2017 is the presidency. If it is Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, they are going to pick people that we will disagree with all the time.”
Later, Jindal—who in the past has griped that President Obama’s advocacy for making healthcare available to those who need it is “making a moral case for socialism”—described Sanders as the rarest of all political players: an honest candidate. Indeed, the Louisianan seemed to suggest that the Vermonter was more honest than at least some self-professed conservatives.