60 years later, Fidel Castro could loom over another US election

1960:  Republican vice president Richard Nixon (1913-1994) (L) and democratic senator John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) take part in a televised debate during their presidential campaign.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This analysis was excerpted from the February 25 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Sign up here to receive it every weekday morning.

(CNN)Fidel Castro is back. From beyond the grave, the socialist icon who faced down Uncle Sam for 50 years is casting his spell over yet another US election campaign.

Front-running Democrat Bernie Sanders, author of his own, milder leftist revolution, refused to fully repudiate past praise of the Cuban dictator in a "60 Minutes" interview over the weekend. "We're very opposed to the authoritarian nature of Cuba," Sanders said in the interview. "But you know, it's unfair to simply say everything is bad. You know?"
Given the historic power of the Cuban diaspora, it's worth watching how this plays in crucial swing state Florida, decided in 2016 by only about 100,000 votes. Several Democratic Sunshine State lawmakers have already spoken out, a sign of how politically radioactive Sanders' remarks might be. And US President Donald Trump, who rolled back the Obama administration's rapprochement with the island, will not hesitate to use them to paint "Crazy Bernie" as a Cuban and Venezuelan-style socialist who would destroy the economy.
Cuban President Fidel Castro addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
But how powerful is the Castro card in 2020? Memories of his regime are receding among US voters and Trump himself -- no stranger to hypocrisy -- has a far more recent record of palling around with authoritarian leaders. He's pliable to Russian President Vladimir Putin, can't stop boasting about his friendship with China's Xi Jinping and has confessed to falling "in love" with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
    It's been 60 years since Castro sparked a heated exchange between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in one of the first televised campaign debates. If Trump and Sanders go head-to-head in the fall, Americans will be treated to the bizarre spectacle of two candidates with a dictator problem. And El Commandante might just get one last chance to loom over a US presidential election.