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It's very clear that Bernie Sanders can not win: former congressman Barney Frank -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: One of the most surprising twists in a fairly unusual presidential race in the United States is that Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton has quite a fight on her hands. Senator Bernie Sanders is stealing some of her traditional base and there's a real possibility he may steal the nomination many Democrats assume she had stitched up.

One of those Democrats was influential former Congressman Barney Frank and he's since had a rethink. He spent 30 years as the representative for Massachusetts, overseeing major financial reforms during the first Obama term. He's now retired, but is in Australia as a guest of the think tank the McKell Institute.

Thank you very much for coming in.


LEIGH SALES: Let's talk about the presidential race. The conventional wisdom is that Bernie Sanders' strong showing in Iowa and that his win in New Hampshire are gonna give him some momentum from here on in the remainder of the primaries and that Hillary Clinton has a real fight on her hands. Do you agree with that thinking?

BARNEY FRANK: I do. I regret it. Let me say this: in many ways I agree with Bernie Sanders ideologically, but I think it's very clear he cannot win. Many of us are troubled, including the most liberal members of the Democratic Party in Congress, for two reasons. 1.) we don't believe he can win, and 2.) in his rhetoric, you know, he for instance is critical of someone who has a super-PAC, as we call it, and who has accepted money from the financial institutions for campaigns. Now I have just described, by the way, two people: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I mean, the problem many of us have is that Bernie Sanders is denigrating the Obama administration. I have been surprised at how well he has done. It is a mark of how - you know, we always thought that naming yourself a socialist would be fatal in America because historically that's been the case. I think the answer is not that socialism has become more popular, but that capitalism has been discredited by the results of such excessive inequality.

LEIGH SALES: You say that even that the more liberal Democrats who you think would be natural bedfellows with Bernie Sanders aren't supportive of his candidacy. Why then is there clearly a level of grassroots support for him?

BARNEY FRANK: Because there is an unhappiness with government in general and because many members of Congress - well, not just members of Congress. I don't know how it is in Australia. Contrary to public opinion in some ways, elected officials are risk-averse. You know, if your survival and your job depends on what a whole lot of people you don't know do every two years in a dark space, you become insecure. The press has mentioned that Ted Cruz has only one member of Congress supporting him. Well Bernie Sanders has two. And one of the things I think you're gonna see people point out is that Bernie Sanders is running as the quintessential outsider. He is in fact the insider in this race. He's been in Congress for 25 years. Despite that, only two of the members support him. And again, it's not like Cruz. Cruz has no support from anybody in Congress because he's apparently one of the meanest people anybody ever met and no-one likes him. In Sanders' case, that's not the case. It's the fear of the actual consequence.

LEIGH SALES: Is there a problem with Hillary Clinton as a candidate, though? What about the length of time she's been on the public stage? Is it possible ... ?

BARNEY FRANK: Well, Bernie Sanders has been in Congress far longer than Hillary Clinton.

LEIGH SALES: But he hasn't had the profile of Hillary Clinton.

BARNEY FRANK: Nonetheless, he's been on the public stage and if people were being rational - look, I think it's this: it's because he has managed successfully to portray himself as the - as the outsider. He's been in Congress for several years before she became - before her husband became the President. If it's Hillary Clinton on the one hand and either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz on the other, none of these other issues will amount to anything.

LEIGH SALES: Who do Democrats believe that you will ultimately face as the Republican candidate?

BARNEY FRANK: Well we now think it's either gonna be Trump or Cruz. I've resisted that conclusion. By the way, I was always happy with that. Either of them would be a terrible mistake on their part, but that's - they have more of a problem of voters out of - voting out of deep emotion without thinking of the consequences. But at this point, here's the Republicans' problem: they need one person to be the alternative to Trump or Cruz from the more mainstream side and they won't get that one person for a long time and by that time they get him, either Trump or Cruz may have won it. 'Cause one thing people should notice: people say, "Well, there is - what about the competition between them?" It is almost certainly the case that if Trump loses votes, they go to Cruz and vice versa.

LEIGH SALES: Well that would be very interesting to see. Barney Frank, thank you very much for coming in.

BARNEY FRANK: Thank you.