During the 2016 campaign, Matthew Yglesias and Vox were often seen as a voice for Hillary Clinton and â€œNeoliberal Corporatism.â€� It is with this background that I find it significant that Yglesias now proclaims thatÂ Bernie Sanders is the Democratsâ€™ real 2020 frontrunner. While many establishment Democrats continue to resist Sanders and his supporters to various degrees, there are signs such as this that others are acknowledging this reality.
The post by Yglesias makes some points which I have made in the past, leaves out some things of significance, and does have some interesting material which Sanders supports might not be aware of.
Yglesias does repeat a point I have made previously, both in the context of one reason why Sanders lost, along with an explanation for why Sanders went on to back Clinton and try to work with the establishment. It is important to understand how things looked before Sanders entered the race. Clintonâ€™s nomination appeared inevitable and nobody (including Sanders) thought he had a chance. Sanders two main goals were to force Democrats to consider his economic views, and to strengthen his position in the party in order to push his priorities in the future. As Vox put it:
By the time it was clear the Sanders 2016 campaign had legs, it was already fatally hobbled. Almost no one believed in the summer and fall of 2015 that he stood any chance of beating Hillary Clinton â€” and that included Sanders himself. As Patrick Healy and Yamiche Alcindor reported last April, he â€œwas originally skeptical that he could beat Mrs. Clinton, and his mission in 2015 was to spread his political message about a rigged America rather than do whatever it took to win the nominationâ€� and only began to really focus on trying to win when his poll numbers unexpectedly soared in early 2016.
Consequently, labor leaders who sympathized with Sandersâ€™s critique of Clinton didnâ€™t give any serious thought to actually endorsing him. Instead, they used his presence in the race as leverage to extract concessions on issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Cadillac tax on high-value health insurance plans from Clinton.
And since Sanders was running to raise the profile of his issues rather than to win, he didnâ€™t bother to develop much in the way of answers to foreign policy questions, even though Clintonâ€™s record of support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and her hawkish instincts were some of her biggest vulnerabilities with the Democratic Party base.
Elected officials were almost uniformly afraid to endorse him, even if their policy views were closer to his than to Clintonâ€™s, and left-of-center think tanks â€” including ones that are deliberately positioned to the left of mainstream Democrats ideologically â€” shied away from working with Sanders on policy development, for fear that Clintonâ€™s wrath would destroy them if they did.
I would also add that the view that he could not win also affected Sandersâ€™ early strategy. He continued to work in the Senate and initially only campaigned part time. If he realized how close the campaign would be he might have campaigned more in 2015, including going to the Super Tuesday states and work earlier to increase minority support. He might also have protested more about the lack of early debates, and made an issue out of Clintonâ€™s scandals.
The lack of early debates also brings up another point which Yglesias ignoredâ€“the degree to which the nomination was rigged for Clinton from the start. There was undoubtedly pressure to clear the field for her, and Wikileaks made it clear that the DNC was not following their own rules about neutrality. This has further been confirmed in the class action lawsuit against the DNC.
Rules since McGovern, including Super Delegates and front loading the process with southern states, were specifically written to get a more conservative nominee. The irony is that they failed to change with the times, and these rules gave the Democrats a nominee who could not even beat Donald Trump, while harming a strong general election candidate such as Sanders when he did arise.
Rather than reverse the outdated rules, the Democrats instead altered the rules even further in 2016 to help Clinton. This included limiting debates, changing fund raising rules, and refraining from announcing the popular vote in Iowa, which Sanders probably won, as was done in 2008. Harry Reidâ€™s actions in Nevada, at a time when he claimed to be neutral, also helped tilt the race towards Clinton. Despite the primary process, Hillary Clinton was chosen in back rooms by the Democratic establishment in 2016 in a manner which was little different than how parties picked their nominees in the proverbial smoke filled rooms in the past, ultimately costing the Democrats the election.
Things will be different in 2020.Â Yglesias also points to how Sanders is building a team to expand upon the issues he raised in 2008. As I noted again yesterday, among the major reasons I supported Sanders were his opposition to the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, as opposed to the major issues he campaigned on. A future campaign will hopefully include these issues. Yglesias wrote:
Earlier this year, Sanders â€” who doesnâ€™t sit on the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, or Intelligence Committees â€” quietly added to his team Matt Duss, a veteran Middle East analyst known for looking askance at Americaâ€™s tendency toward uncritical alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Itâ€™s a clear sign that Sanders, who had a keen interest in left-wing foreign policy as mayor of Burlington but hasnâ€™t had much of a profile on the issue in Congress, is serious about being able to play competently on the full spectrum of issues.
Sanders also picked up Ari Rabin-Havt, best known in recent years for his Sirius XM radio show but previously an adviser for Harry Reid in his early years as Democratsâ€™ Senate leader.
While Sanders is deepening his team in Washington, his national political organization Our Revolution is diligently working to get Sanders supporters elected to state and local offices. Critically, the list of Our Revolution winners â€” a group that includes House members, state legislators, state party chairs, and even city council members â€” is quite ethnically diverse. His camp is aware that 2016â€™s African-American outreach strategy was flawed in both concept and execution, and heâ€™s setting himself up to be able to count on black and Latino elected officials from all regions of the country as surrogates while also courting national leaders like the NAACPâ€™s William Barber.
Yglesias also says that Sanders is moderating his views, but if true he does remain well to the left of Hillary Clinton. While Clinton campaigned against single payer health care, Sanders continues to push for Medicare-for-all. I cannot disagree with Yglesias when he points out that Sandersâ€™ age could be a problem in 2020. We will have to wait and see if he is still up to running. The post did look at other possible candidates should Sanders not run, concluding by saying that â€œAmong the Bernie faithful the most frequently named fallback candidateÂ isnâ€™t the well-known Warren or labor-liberal warhorse Sherrod Brown. Itâ€™s Nina Turnerâ€¦â€�
Yglesias ended with a strong argument that â€œItâ€™s time to take Bernie Sanders seriouslyâ€�
The Democratic Party establishment is, in many respects, in worse shape than it realizes.
Sandersâ€™s insurgent campaign revealed a Democratic Party electorate that is fairly eager to embrace an ideological champion as a progressive counterpoint to the decidedly conservative GOP. The notion of pragmatism continues to carry weight, but having lost control of all three branches of the federal government and blundered to a point where Democrats donâ€™t control the state Senate in New York or the governorâ€™s mansion in Illinois, party leadersâ€™ credentials as strategic masterminds are in question.
Last but by no means least, relying on African-American voters as a bulwark against left-wingery, as Clinton did, is tenuous as black views on economic policy are generally quite left-wing. Democrats now rely heavily for votes on the large â€” and very Democratic-leaning â€” millennial generation that lacks clear political memories of the Cold War or the booming neoliberal economy of the 1990s, so â€œsocialismâ€� isnâ€™t a scare word for them, even as it remains unpopular nationally.
Sanders became their champion over the course of 2016 and continues to hold that status now. But while in 2016 he faced a unified â€” and intimidating â€” opponent and launched with a ramshackle campaign, today he has a strong national political organization, a proven fundraising track record, and is moving decisively to address his weak points on international affairs, policy development, and minority outreach. Everyone agrees that in a perfect world heâ€™d also wave a magic wand and scrape 10 or 15 years off his age, but thatâ€™s not possible. The movement heâ€™s created lacks an obviously more compelling successor, and he continues to be broadly popular with the public.
Predicting the future is a mugâ€™s game. But if Bernie Sanders runs again, heâ€™ll be hard to beat. And as far as one can tell, heâ€™s doing everything you would do to set yourself up to run again.
While I often disagreed with Yglesias during the 2016 campaign, this is a far more realistic viewpoint than he expressed previously, and far more realistic than the delusional account of the race which Peter Daou posted on Facebook today.