Bernie Sanders tells Stephen Colbert why he thinks a 'socialist' can win in 2016

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was on Stephen Colbert's Late Show on Friday, and Colbert asked the liberal, socialist Democratic presidential candidate about people calling him a liberal and a socialist: "Why will you not accept those two terms as the insults they're meant to be?" Sanders, who often refers to himself as a Scandinavian-style democratic socialist, told Colbert, "I prefer the term to be, actually, progressive." The reason, he added — joking that it's a "radical idea" — is that he believes the government, like in Scandinavia, "should actually represent working people and the middle class rather than wealthy campaign donors."

Earlier in the interview, which you can watch in its entirety at CBS, Colbert asked Sanders if he's surprised that he's pulled ahead of Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. "I knew that we had a message that would resonate with the American people," Sanders replied. Colbert, playing "capitalism's advocate," said that if America became the wealthiest nation on Earth through being capitalist, why become socialist now? Sanders said that he wants America to keep its entrepreneurialism and innovation but also do a better job of distributing income and wealth among the entire populace, not just the top 1 percent.

Colbert changed tack, asking about speculation that Sanders is essentially the Democratic Donald Trump: An exciting protest candidate. "I think that what Trump is doing is appealing to the baser instincts among us, xenophobia and, frankly, racism," he said. That's nothing new in America, he added, but "I think that is disgraceful, and not something we should be doing in 2015." Sanders said he is promoting an inclusive America whose government works for the people, not the wealthy donor class.

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Colbert noted that Clinton would agree with Sanders' vision, and asked what he'd say to people who plan to vote for Clinton because they don't think Sanders is electable, is more of a Ralph Nader figure. Sanders said that even with low name recognition, he's still doing almost as well as Clinton in head-to-head polls against Republicans, that he is turning out huge crowds, and that Democrats win in high-turnout elections.

Colbert was softer on Sanders in his introductory segment, and offered his own explanation for Sanders' success. "Why on Earth is Sanders doing so well, especially with the hip young people?" he asked. Maybe it's because he's originally from Brooklyn, or that "while every other candidate is as an MP3 player, Bernie is as warm as old vinyl." You can watch that below. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.