Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is winding down. Rhode Island Public Radio political analyst Scott MacKay ponders what’s next for the Vermont senator and the movement he and his followers built.
Bernie Sanders improbable campaign for the White House is ending in defeat. Yet, the organization he built and the enthusiasm of his supporters lives on.
The Vermonter proved that there is wide support for the issues he holds dear: A more realistic foreign policy, increasing the minimum wage, extending free public education through college, taking climate change seriously, backing union and minority rights and advocating for ridding our politics of the corrupting influence of big money.
He also proved that you don’t have to kiss up to the billionaire class of dark money super pacs to raise enough cash to run a national presidential campaign. Sanders drew millions of votes and harvested millions of dollars at $27 a pop on the Internet.
What he failed at was building a diverse campaign that attracted the votes of a majority of African-American and Latino voters. This is the biggest reason he lost to Hillary Clinton, who is now the presumptive Democratic nominee. The final blow to Sanders was his humbling loss to Clinton in the California primary.
The question of what Bernie and his supporters want has intrigued the media for months. From the top of his effort to the bottom, the Sanders base wants what he has always advocated: a fairer country where average Americans have a better chance at a middle-class life. And a safe environment and a more sane, less militaristic foreign policy.
Tad Devine, the Rhode Islander who shaped Sanders message, says the senator wants to continue to expand the electorate, urging his flock to get involved in local politics and push the Democratic Party to the left. Devine also notes that the campaign means that Sanders himself will be a more influential player in Washington, D.C., particularly if Democrats take back the Senate, a realistic goal given the Trump ascendancy on the Republican side.
Sanders' Rhode Island supporters want to see how their candidate is treated at the Democratic National Convention before they hold their noses and vote for Clinton. Robert Malin, a staunch Sanders backer from Charlestown, says "we can’t have Trump" but also says he wants to see Clinton weave Sanders ideas into the party’s platform before he would vote for her.
Others, such as Beth Fouser Adamo of Providence, wants Sanders to take his ideas to the convention. She says at this point, she "just can’t" vote for Clinton and may cast her ballot for a third party progressive candidate.
This attitude isn’t unusual in the aftermath of a loss. In 2008, some hard-core Clinton supporters vowed not to vote for Barack Obama after their bruising campaign. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and Democrats united around Obama.
But the 2000 presidential sweepstakes ought to give pause to liberal Democrats considering voting for a third party. That year, Ralph Nader drew 25,000 votes in New Hampshire, a state Al Gore lost by only about 7,000. Had Gore won the Granite State, there would have been no Florida frittata, no George W. Bush presidency and likely no Iraq War.
The challenge for the Sanderistas is too keep their movement alive. They must stick together. And liberals must learn what conservatives have done much better in recent years – which is to show up in midterm elections.
If the gridlock in Washington shows us anything, it is what happens when progressives work hard to elect presidents and then go to sleep during the crucial midterm elections, when the House and Senate are up. And don’t forget the state and local elections. The Sanders campaign crushed Clinton in Rhode Island. Just think what these voters could accomplish if they aimed at taking out some of the Democrats-in-Name Only who are so powerful at the Statehouse.
Malin says this is already happening as some of the Sanders throng are considering running for local offices, including town councils, around the Ocean State.
Sanders has long been more pragmatic than his lefty image. In 1984, while mayor of Burlington, his small state’s largest city, he endorsed and campaigned for Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign against incumbent Ronald Reagan. His reason: Reagan had not been good to cities and Mondale was much better on urban issues. Many of Sanders lefty, independents supporters were upset at this compromise. In the House and Senate Sanders has worked across the aisle. His voting record is very similar to such Senate Democrats as Jack Reed, who, like Sanders, opposed the Iraq War.
Then there are issues. If you are an environmentalist Sanders acolyte, it might be time to study the issues surrounding the proposed Burrillville power plant. Why are we investing in a new fossil fuel plant instead of buying Canadian hydro power would be a good start?
Sanders is 74. He isn’t going to be a long-run leader of what he started. Now’s the time for his followers to step up and make a commitment to stay involved. Or the movement he ignited will be little more than a historic footnote.
Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:40 and 8:40 on Morning Edition and at 5:44 on All Things Considered. You can also follow his political reporting and analysis at our `On Politics’ blog at RIPR.org