Some Tea Party Republicans are voting for Bernie Sanders -- and not for the reasons that you think
Lancaster, PA, USA - May 5, 2018: US Senator Bernard “Bernie” Sanders from Vermont makes a campaign stop and for Jess King, Democrat congressional candidate.

Some Democratic primaries are only open to registered Democrats; others allow all registered voters to participate regardless of party affiliation — including South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary. Registered Republicans will be free to vote in that primary and vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren or any one of the other candidates. And Jane Coaston, in Vox, explains why some Tea Party Republicans in South Carolina are voting for Bernie Sanders.


Karen Martin, an organizer for a Tea Party group in Spartanburg, South Carolina, told Vox that she is voting for Sanders to make a statement against the state’s open primary system — which she vehemently opposes. As Martin sees it, open primaries water things down: Republican primaries, in her view, should only be for registered Republicans — and Democratic primaries should only be for registered Democrats.

Recently, President Donald Trump’s son, GOP activist Donald Trump Jr., has been talking about Sanders’ relationship with the Democratic Party — and Trump Jr.’s motivation, Coaston observes, seems to be promoting divisions among Democrats. But Martin, speaking to Vox, didn’t express any desire to see infighting among Democrats and their allies.

“We’re not necessarily looking to disrupt any additional things,” Martin told Vox. “And we really don’t care who comes out of South Carolina on top.”

Crossover voting — members of one party voting in another party’s primary — can have different motivations, as Coaston points out in her article. In the past, some Democratic voters would temporarily register as Republicans in order to participate in a GOP primary and vote for the less extreme Republican seeking the nomination; their reasoning was that if the Democrat they would be voting for lost in the general election, at least the Republican nominee they for voted in the primary would be the lesser of the evils. With open primaries, a Democratic voter could vote for the less extreme Republican without having to go to the trouble to register as a Republican.

Martin doesn’t like crossover voting. And in her view, voting for Sanders is a way to speak out against open primaries.

The Tea Party is far-right. But in South Carolina’s open Democratic primary, a Never Trump Republican might vote for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg or Sen. Amy Klobuchar rather than Sanders out of a genuine hope that Buttigieg or Klobuchar wins and defeats Trump in the general election.

Some crossover voting occurred in 2000’s presidential election when Democrats participated in the GOP primary and voted for Sen. John McCain rather than former Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who won the Republican nomination and defeated Vice President Al Gore in the general election. South Carolina Democrats who voted for McCain in the open primary reasoned that if a Democrat lost the general election, McCain would be preferable to Bush. And a Bush campaign spokesperson, Coaston recalls, complained that an “alliance between the limousine liberal Democrats and the McCain campaign” was “distorting the intent of real Republican voters" — which is the sort of argument that the Tea Party’s Karen Martin is making in South Carolina 20 years later.

When registered Democrats are allowed to vote in a Republican primary, Martin complains, it “dilutes my vote.”

“For me personally, if there are people in other parts of the state — Democrats who are voting in Republican Party primaries — they are sending more moderates to Columbia, who then make my laws,” Martin told Vox.

Vox asked Martin if voting for Sanders in the South Carolina primary could backfire against Tea Party members — what if Sanders receives the nomination, defeats Trump in the general election and is sworn in as president in January 2021?

Martin responded, “The people that make the rules in the Democrat Party are not going to allow Bernie to be the nominee…. The rule makers in the Democrat Party are not going to let him be the nominee; so, that is not a concern for us.”