If Democrats want to win in 2020, they must have Bernie Sanders in their corner. The Senator from Vermont remains the most popular active politician in the US with a favorability rating of 57% among all voters and 82% among Democrats, according to polls.
Sanders’ bold progressive views on single-payer healthcare, free public college, and paid family and medical leave continue to resonate with a majority of voters. And he can still attract serious crowds. Earlier this week, when he hosted a “Medicare For All Town Hall” event online, he drew more than one million viewers without any help from the cable news companies.
Since Trump will likely be the Republican to beat in 2020, a Democratic candidate who can speak to the widespread anger and despair of Americans will be required. Though speculation began months ago on who the 2020 candidate might be, no one can say what will unfold. Sanders has dodged rumors about throwing his hat in the ring, but just last weekend he assembled several advisers at a Washington meeting that had the appearance of a 2020 planning huddle.
Whatever happens, Democrats need to avoid alienating Sanders, and his supporters.
The party did seem to be extending an olive branch to Sanders when, after the primary ended, they made him Outreach Chair of the Senate Steering and Outreach Committee. But when they rolled out their “Better Deal” vision for the future of the party last summer in Virginia, neither Sanders nor his surrogate during the primary, Keith Ellison, were invited to that public gathering. The bizarre circumstances of the event are described in full in a recent This American Life episode.
Open resentment about the fact that Sanders is not a member of the Democratic Party has likewise hurt Democrats’ image. For example, there was a push from within the DNC last fall to force Bernie Sanders and fellow independent Angus King of Maine to run as Democrats in their 2018 Senate races. The motion was eventually struck down, but it shows the ongoing obsession that some Democrats have with Sanders’ lack of party affiliation.
Sanders was vocal about his frustrations with the Dems throughout the primary, articulating a desire to see them break ties with corporate donors and adopt a more progressive agenda. It was precisely this message that made the Senator so popular among young voters.
A frank and open conversation about these matters would be much better for Democrats than trying to push them under the rug.
If Democrats are serious about winning the upcoming elections, they need to acknowledge Bernie Sanders’ role as a leader of the party.