Former Obama Campaign Manager Calls Bernie Sanders 'the Worst Candidate' to Beat Trump

Former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina called Senator Bernie Sanders "the worst candidate" to pit against President Donald Trump in the general election.

Messina told MSNBC that the qualities that make Sanders appeal to youth voters may be most hurtful to him in a general election. MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle attributed Sanders' appeal both to his consistency and his message. "The message is basically: You can live your life for free. We'll have free college tuition. We'll have free this. We'll forgive your student debts," he said. "It's a powerful message."

Messina said that the message that Barnicle cited as the reasons Sanders wouldn't fare well in a general election against Trump. The former campaign manager said he worried that that message would "get him killed" in a general election. "I don't think there's a question about it," Messina said. "I think it's very clear to me that with these swing voters that I care about—the Trump-Obama voters in the Midwestern states—Bernie Sanders is not the candidate we need to beat Donald Trump in November."

Messina told Newsweek that many of the Trump-Obama voters are unlikely to respond to "a massive infusion of government" and tax increases. "When you start having real conversations with these voters, you realize that the very last thing they think is the recipe here is a massive infusion of government and a huge increase in taxes. These are people who voted for Donald Trump last time, because they wanted to kind of blow the system up, because they think it failed [them]," he told Newsweek.

Messina remains skeptical that Sanders' policies and plans will resonate with Midwestern voters. "It is very unlikely. When you talk to these folks, they just don't think that Bernie's recipes are recipes that are naturally going to help them," he said. "As you know, we're talking about a total of about 78,000 voters in three states that really swung this last time."

Sanders campaign communications director Mike Casca told Newsweek that Messina's remarks about Sanders are unsurprising and criticized him for his work with conservative British politicians such as former Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, who Messina had served as a consultant and campaign strategist for, respectively.

"It's not surprising that Jim Messina, who pockets lots of cash to advise right-wing leaders and some of the biggest corporations in the world, is nervous about Sen. Sanders becoming president," Casca told Newsweek in an email. "If he spent less time in boardrooms courting CEOs, he would witness the incredible energy generated by Bernie's campaign, which has more than 5 million individual donations—the all-time record for a presidential candidate at this point in the race. But please be sure Jim gives our best to his dear friends David Cameron and Theresa May."

"Those candidates they refer to won their elections, I'd like to remind you and them. It's fine. I'm not talking about enthusiasm, which is what their quote is about," Messina told Newsweek. "That's a Democratic Primary thing. I'm talking about general election voters."

A new poll from SurveyUSA found Sanders leading Trump by the widest margin of all Democratic candidates. The poll found that 52 percent of 4,069 voters would choose Sanders over Trump's 43 percent.

Messina also said that it was important to see which candidate would draw voters under 30. Messina noted that over 50 percent of voters favored a candidate over 70 years old. "This has always been Bernie's big calling card, that he could get the youth out," he said. Messina continued that if young voters do go out to vote, "it will change the electoral math."

Bernie Sanders speaks to the crowd during the King Day at the Dome rally on January 20, in Columbia, South Carolina. Jim Messina remains skeptical that Sanders' policies and plans will resonate with Midwestern voters. Sean Rayford/Getty