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GOP's anti-Sanders attack ad intended to help, not hurt, Sanders

Why do Republicans keep running faux attack ads against Bernie Sanders? Because they desperately want to run against him in a general election.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks on stage after declaring victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Primary on Feb. 9, 2016 in Concord, N.H. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks on stage after declaring victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire Primary on Feb. 9, 2016 in Concord, N.H.
About a month ago, a Republican super PAC launched a $600,000 ad buy that, on the surface, might have looked like an attack ad targeting Bernie Sanders. A closer look, however, made clear it was the opposite -- the commercial, backed by a prominent Republican mega-donor, was actually trying to boost Sanders, not hurt him.
The ad called Sanders a "liberal" who supports tuition-free college, single-payer health care, and higher taxes on the "super-rich." The intention was to boost Sanders in the Iowa caucuses, since Republicans see the Vermont senator as an easy target in the general election.
This week, it's happening again. A group called Future 45 is running ads that, at first blush, seem critical. But the spots actually tout some of Sanders' ideas that are popular with Democratic primary voters: an increase in the minimum wage, higher taxes on banks and corporations, tuition-free college, and universal health care.
And who's Future 45? The Intercept reported yesterday:

Future 45 is [a super PAC] run by Brian O. Walsh, a longtime Republican operative who has in the past served as political director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Most recently, he was president of the American Action Network, a dark money group that was the second-largest outside spender in 2010. Over the last year, Future 45 has been funded primarily by hedge fund managers. Two billionaire Rubio-backers -- Paul Singer, who runs Elliott Management, and Ken Griffin, who runs Citadel -- have each contributed $250,000.

The overarching point is effectively the same as it was a month ago: Republicans are running anti-Sanders "attack" ads that are actually intended to help him, not hurt him.
As we discussed in the first go-around, this is part of a larger strategy in which Republican mega-donors try to manipulate Democratic voters because they see Sanders as a sure loser in November.
It's no different from the tactic Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) used in the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Missouri, when she invested in ads intended to boost then-Rep. Todd Akin (R) in his primary race, with commercials touting his far-right positions and calling him "too conservative." The point was to make Akin look better in the eyes of Missouri Republicans so he'd win the primary, making it easier for the incumbent Democrat to defeat him on Election Day.
The plan worked like a charm; Akin won the primary; and McCaskill beat him by 15 points on Election Day.
In going after Sanders, Republicans are reading from the same playbook.
Again, just because Republicans want Sanders to win the nomination doesn't mean they're correct. They assume he'd lose easily, but whether or not that's true remains a subject of spirited debate. What's less open to debate is the fact that Republicans would much prefer to face Bernie Sanders in the fall than Hillary Clinton.
The result is advertising such as the spot from Future 45.