On Monday night, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who is leading among 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, according to the latest poll, gave a feisty performance at a Fox News town hall in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The conservative network, home to Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, may seem like an odd campaign stop for any politician without an R after their name, let alone for the only current socialist in U.S. Senate. But Sanders didn't exactly face a hostile crowd, and he sat with their more serious correspondents rather than one of the bombastic commentators.
The town hall was held near a shuttered steel mill, putting a finer point on the idea that the Democrats need to win back Rust Belt voters left behind by the dramatic shifts in the manufacturing industry to triumph in 2020. As hosts Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum explain, Barack Obama won the county in 2008 and 2012, and Bethlehem had been a safely blue district for decades until Donald Trump won it in 2016. Sanders's politics seemed well-suited to the region—the crowd applauded when he advocated raising taxes on the super-rich, something that Fox News's own polling has shown is incredibly popular, as well as when he mentioned walking picket lines with union members protesting against NAFTA.
Baier tried to frame Sanders as a hypocrite for being part of the 1 percent while also arguing that the 1 percent should be taxed more. According to his tax returns that his campaign released on Monday, Sanders is now a millionaire. He'd long been one of the least well-off members of the Senate, but the sales of a book he wrote after his 2016 campaign have bumped him into the highest tax bracket.
"When you wrote the book and you made the money, isn’t that the definition of capitalism and the American dream?" Baier asked. Sanders replied with an immediate "no." He continued:
“I mean, you know, what we want is a country where everybody has opportunity. You know, I have a college degree. I’m a United States senator. But a lot of people don’t have a college degree. A lot of people are not United States senators. I want everybody in this country to be able to have health care, to have education, to, when they turn on the water, have drinkable water, not toxic water.”
When the town hall moved to Medicare for All, the single-payer health-care plan that Sanders backs, Baier asked for a show of hands from everyone currently getting health care through their employer: Most of the hands in the room went up, Baier's and Sanders's among them. Then came the follow-up. "Of those," Baier asked, "how many are willing to transition to what the senator says, a government-run system?" Hands fired back up and the crowd began cheering.
"What we're talking about actually is stability," Sanders said, noting how precarious employer-based health care is when you can lose your job or the plan changes overnight. "That when you have a Medicare for All, it is there now and will be there in the future." It's hard to argue against government-run health care when the private industry has done such a poor job in America. Sanders hit the refrain that Americans are paying twice as much as Canadians for health care with poorer health outcomes.
There's been a long-held idea pushed by conservatives and figures at Fox News that, as Ronald Reagan once said, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." But it's becoming increasingly clear that voters—including Republicans and the network's viewers—don't necessarily agree with that when it comes down to brass tacks, including keeping factories open or government-run health care, which is why the socialist handily won Fox News last night.