Is Bernie Sanders a Wall Street menace? He says so.
At Wednesday's Democratic presidential debate in Miami, the Vermont senator bragged about his anti-establishment credentials in contrasting himself with fellow White House contender Hillary Clinton.
"There is nobody in the United States Congress who has taken on the Koch brothers, who want to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and virtually every federal program passed since the 1930s more than Bernie Sanders," he said. And later, to bring the point home, he added, "I am dangerous to Wall Street."
The assertion came as a reference to comments made by Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who in February responded to Sanders' ongoing assault on the banking giant. Sanders has invoked Goldman numerous times on the campaign trail as an example of the "billionaire class" he despises and in a January interview cited Blankfein by name as an example of corporate greed.
"It has the potential to personalize it, it has the potential to be a dangerous moment. Not just for Wall Street not just for the people who are particularly targeted but for anybody who is a little bit out of line," Blankfein said. "It's a liability to say I'm going to compromise I'm going to get one millimeter off the extreme position I have and if you do you have to back track and swear to people that you'll never compromise. It's just incredible. It's a moment in history."
Sanders appears to wear his Wall Street danger badge with pride -- in the wake of Wednesday's debate, his campaign sent out a fundraising email to supporters with the subject line: "I am dangerous to Wall Street."
But is he?
The Vermont senator certainly has big plans for the financial industry should he be elected president.
He has pledged to reinstate Glass-Steagall, a Depression era law separating commercial banking and investment banking that was repealed in 1999. Doing so would require some of the biggest banks to be broken up -- names like JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and, of course, Goldman Sachs.
The senator also plans to tackle what he calls a Wall Street speculation tax, more commonly known as a financial transaction tax. Aimed at raising billions of dollars in revenue by placing a small levy on every stock, bond and derivative bought and sold in the United States, he says the measure would cover the entirety of his $75-billion-a-year-plan to make public college tuition-free.
Other measures touted by Sanders include prohibiting what he considers "too-big-to-fail institutions" from accessing the Federal Reserve's discount facilities or using insured deposits for risky activities, ending the practice of paying big bonuses to Wall Street execs who take government jobs, and auditing the Federal Reserve.
As to how dangerous all of that really is to the finance industry, it depends who you ask.
Sanders' and, for that matter, Clinton's plans to break up the banks and tackle Wall Street would be difficult to enact, noted Politico assistant editor Danny Vinik in the wake of Sunday's previous Democratic debate in Flint, Mich.
"The law does give the government the ability to break up big banks if the Federal Reserve board of governors votes that the institutions pose a 'grave threat to the financial stability of the United States,' and if two-thirds of the Financial Stability Oversight Council agree with that finding," he wrote. "But that's a process the president controls only remotely, by appointing people over the years who'd be more inclined to be tough on banks. So while it's a promise that enthuses Democratic voters, it's a huge stretch to imagine either candidate could suddenly make it happen."
Still, his rhetoric alone could be enough to spook financial institutions and traders should he land in the Oval Office, at least initially, said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Brookings Institution, in an October interview contemplating the prospect of a Sanders presidency.
"It would rebound only if policies under Sanders were shown to be economically positive," he said.
Matt Dickinson, Middlebury College political science professor and expert in presidential politics, echoed the sentiment: "The basic question that drives everything is whether the financial markets believe the Sanders numbers add up."
Wall Street still doesn't appear to be too concerned about a Sanders presidency -- at least not in the way it seems worried about the prospect of Clinton. Her tweets on issues like eliminating private prisons and tackling price gouging by pharmaceutical companies have moved markets.
Sanders' Wall Street speculation tax, of course, could be impactful to Wall Streeters, but until it is implemented, we wouldn't know how much.
A recent study published by the Tax Policy Center indicated that a revenue-maximizing financial transaction tax could generate about $75 billion but poses risks in significantly discouraging trading and creating new distortions among asset classes. And it wouldn't just hit Wall Street -- it would hit investors across the board, including those with their 401Ks and pensions in the markets.
"To increase the transaction fees...would be reflected ultimately in the price of securities, that is, lower the price of securities, and that would be a burden on investors and the holders of capital in general," said Steve Rosenthal, senior fellow at the Urban Institute and one of the researchers behind the study, in a February interview.
The question of whether Sanders would really be dangerous for Wall Street ultimately comes down to whether he would be good for the economy at large.
A February report from University of Massachusetts Amherst economist Gerald Friedman indicates that Sanders' plans would lead to a roaring economy, and though the findings have come under criticism from the left and from the right, Friedman isn't alone in thinking Sanders' economic plans would bring about good things.
In fact, this week, Sanders found support from an unlikely source: Asher Edelman, the American financier who is said to be one of the inspirations for Gordon Gekko of the 1987 film Wall Street.
When asked in an interview with CNBC who he believes the best presidential candidate for the economy would be, Edelman responded unequivocally. "Bernie Sanders, no question," he said, later adding, "Bernie is the only person out there who I think is talking at all about both fiscal stimulation and banking rules that will get the banks to begin to generate lending again as opposed to speculation."