Though Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 (and he might not win the nod in 2020, should he decide to run) he’s going to emerge triumphant from this moment in Democratic politics anyway.
Just look at the other candidates expected to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020, all of whom are in some way seeking to curry favor with Sanders’ supporters and coalescing around the policies he backed — even though, in 2016, those ideas were derided as a pipe dream promulgated by an old man from Vermont who didn’t understand the real world.
The most obvious example of this shift has occurred is in health care policy: Sanders’ single-payer style “Medicare for All” plan was widely panned by Beltway pundits and prognosticators in 2016 as hopelessly idealistic and a political non-starter. Now, though, Sanders has 16 co-sponsors on a single-payer bill, including potential 2020 contenders Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. The Democratic establishment, too, has come around to the idea that pushing for a single-payer style system is the correct thing to do.
Beyond health care, Booker has rolled out a plan to implement a jobs guarantee, Gillibrand and Booker want to legalize marijuana and they, along with Harris, have sworn off corporate PAC money. That first one is more than even Sanders dared to call for back in 2016; the latter two are straight out of his playbook. Even Sanders’ push for labor law reform, a dream of activists that didn’t happen under the Obama administration (despite Democrats having 60 votes in the Senate), has garnered its fair share of backers.
Even if you assume that establishment-types really do believe that moderation is the path toward big majorities, there’s little reason to think their case is a good one. Democrats have been decimated in the last few election cycles, up and down the ballot. But in 2016, Sanders won in places — like West Virginia, Montana and Idaho — in which Democrats are not typically successful. So it’s probably worth seeing if a different kind of Democrat taking a more progressive stance could break the GOP’s stranglehold in similar places. Nothing else Democrats have done has worked so, if the party had any sense, it’d get out of the way and let some candidates give it a whirl.
More Democrats will be running Sanders-style campaigns over the next few cycles regardless of what the party does, thanks to simple political reality and voters’ distaste for dictates from on high. The party’s power to decide for its voters is ebbing. And, for that, progressives — even ones that voted for Hillary Clinton — have Bernie to thank.
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