A few weeks ago, I made my case for Elizabeth Warren for President in 2020. While I remain officially undecided, the “endorsement cases” I make in this blog are coming more or less in the order I would rank them were we to have an advanced rank choice voting system in place. In my case for Warren, one of the primary drawbacks I articulated was whether or not she could win – whether she was simply too wonky and too ivory tower for the typical American voter. This may or may not cause progressive voters to second guess her candidacy.
Another leading candidate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, potentially closes this gap in the electability question. Sen. Sanders is undoubtedly a movement builder – he has riled up a passionate, unwavering base of younger and otherwise disillusioned voters. As a populist, he taps into the swath of the electorate that wants to “drain the swamp” while offering an option other than filling it in with even uglier swamp creatures (like Trump). This is why Clinton supporters were eager to point out (disparagingly) that 12% of Sanders voters ended up voting for Trump in the 2016 general elections. The “Bernie Bro” vote, in many cases, was less about sexism or being a sore loser than it was about voting against entrenched Washington insiders. We see the same reaction on social media among Sanders supporters today with regards to Joe Biden’s candidacy.
This brings me to another criticism – that Sen. Sanders has been an ineffective legislator. Critics often like to note that Sanders has only gotten seven bills passed during his time in Congress (both in the Senate and the House) since 1991. In contrast, unabashed centrist Amy Klobuchar has passed 33 bills. To those most disillusioned with Washington, however, Bernie’s legislative is not the bug; it’s the feature. Remaining a maverick and an outsider throughout his decades in office demonstrates an immunity to the Swamp Fever that corrupts politicians on both sides of the aisle. Sanders, after all, racked up primary victories in surprise Trump-voting states like Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as rural and western states. He also walked into the proverbial lion’s den, giving a town hall on Fox News, which generated resounding applause from the audience and set the trend for other Democratic candidates to follow suit. (My other preferred candidate, Elizabeth Warren, would have done well to do so in my opinion).
It is noteworthy that my case for Bernie Sanders is based around the politics of his nomination rather than his individual policies. I maintain that Senator Warren has more (painstakingly) clearly articulated policy plans – and ways to pay for them – though Sanders deserves credit for taking leadership on the very popular Medicare for All proposal in the Senate. Both Sanders and Warren have articulated a proposal to induce more employee stake in large companies. For better or for worse, however, the 2020 elections may come down to not who has the most clearly articulated policies, but to who can mobilize a loyal base and tap into populist unrest that has not subsided since 2016. For this reason above all, Bernie Sanders is the clear choice for the movement-builder’s candidate.