Beyond Bernie 2016

If Bernie Sanders isn’t going to be president, what happens to the movement that coalesced behind him?

A week ago, on the eve of the New York primary, there was still a plausible scenario in which Bernie Sanders would be inaugurated as president next January: New York had elected Hillary Clinton to the Senate twice, so an upset win there — or maybe even just a photo finish that would keep her from declaring victory until Wednesday morning — would the change the narrative of the campaign in a way that could set Bernie on the road to the White House.

Until that moment, the recent string of Sanders victories could still be written off as the calendar’s fortuitous grouping of several Bernie-friendly contests. But if he won New York, no one could deny that the campaign had seen a real momentum shift. Clinton’s big margins in delegate-rich early states like Texas, Florida, and Ohio might start to seem like old news. The combination of a New York upset, Clinton’s shrinking margin over Sanders in national polls, and Sanders’ advantage in head-to-head match-ups with Republicans might be enough to turn around the polls that showed him trailing in the next round of states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware, which vote tomorrow), shrink Clinton’s pledged-delegate lead to insignificance by the end of the primaries in June, and convince superdelegates that he was the candidate the party needed to unite behind at the Democratic Convention in July.

But that didn’t happen.

Instead, Clinton had a crushing 16-point win in New York and extended her pledged-delegate lead by an estimated 31. Polls show Clinton continuing to hold big leads in Pennsylvania and Maryland, with a smaller lead in Connecticut (and little polling in Rhode Island and Delaware). Even if he could squeak out wins those states, it wouldn’t be enough at this point. To catch up, he needs landslides — a long string of them — and there’s no indication that they’re coming.

Hillary is now virtually certain to go the convention with a sizeable lead in pledged delegates and primary votes. Back when Sanders supporters hoped to win in the primaries and were worried about superdelegates overruling the will of the people, big Bernie-supporting organizations like Democracy for America and Move On committed themselves to the position that the pledged-delegate winner should be the nominee. They would have a hard time walking that back now. And besides, superdelegates (who are precisely the kind of party establishment figures Clinton appeals to) rushing to Sanders has always been hard to picture.

In short, Hillary Clinton is going to be nominated.

What Bernie accomplished. None of that should diminish the impressiveness of what the Sanders campaign has done. A year ago, it might have seemed like a moral victory if Sanders had put up some token resistance in Iowa and New Hampshire — 25% or 30%, maybe — before fading out of the picture altogether. Instead, Bernie has won states in every region but the South, and created moments of real panic inside the Clinton campaign. Rather than a Clinton coronation, the outcome has ended up hanging on a single factor: Sanders’ inability to break through with non-white voters. (The margins Clinton achieved in New York — 75%-25% among blacks and 64%-36% among Latinos — are fairly typical. Sanders and Clinton split New York’s white vote 50-50.)

As a result, Clinton has had to shift left in ways that will be hard to undo. She’s now against the TransPacific Partnership treaty that she had a role in negotiating, and against the Keystone XL pipeline. She’s had to take a stronger position on raising the minimum wage, and to emphasize other progressive parts of her platform that otherwise she might have played down. As leaks from her staff touch off discussions of possible VPs, we’re hearing names like Elizabeth Warren rather than Democrats to Hillary’s right (like several who appear on Democrat Cafe’s list).

In the national conversation, progressive ideas have moved closer to the mainstream. Several of Occupy Wall Street’s points have stopped sounding fringy and are well on their way to becoming common sense:

  • The top 1% have captured too much of our nation’s wealth
  • Their institutional power gives their viewpoint too much influence in the media.
  • Our virtually unregulated campaign finance system makes it too hard for politicians to stand up to them.
  • As a result, their combination of market power and political power rigs the American economy in their favor.

Looking to 2020 or beyond, candidates will have to seriously consider funding their campaigns out of small donations, knowing that they’ll face criticism if they go the Super PAC route instead.

Those are significant accomplishments. So while it’s natural for Sanders supporters to be disappointed in how things are turning out, the campaign has not been a failure.

But where should it go from here?

Scorched Earth? One possibility is that Bernie could go down swinging: Keep hammering at Clinton’s trustworthiness and Wall Street ties; promote a persecution narrative that the process is rigged against him; make the convention as contentious as possible; and either encourage his supporters to vote for a third-party candidate like the Greens’ Jill Stein, or even run himself as an independent.

Some supporters definitely are leaning that way. Susan Sarandon, who has made an online ad for Sanders, told Chris Hayes:

I think Bernie would probably encourage people to [support Hillary if he loses] because he doesn’t have any ego in this thing. But I think a lot of people are, ‘sorry, I just can’t bring myself to’.

The threat that their unwillingness to unite behind Hillary might hand the White House to Donald Trump does not move them: On this episode of The Young Turks, Cenk Uygar argues that Trump is a fascist, so “we can’t roll the dice” on a Trump presidency. But Jimmy Dore pushes back:

Think how strong the left would be. Think how strong — and also, we’d have all the independents and we would pick off Republicans. … I think it would put liberalism over the top. You know how we always say that Americans are liberal but they just don’t know it? I think they would know it.

Getting in line? A second possibility is to do what Hillary Clinton herself did eight years ago: After pushing all the way to the end of the primaries and coming up short, she endorsed Barack Obama in early June. It was not a half-hearted, check-the-box effort: She and Bill worked hard for Obama, in spite of die-hard supporters who tried to organize against him. Bill’s speech was one of the highlights of the 2008 convention.

If Sanders did something similar, if he didn’t just say “Yeah, I guess she’s better than Trump” but toured the country campaigning for the Democratic ticket, that could go a long way to unify the party for the fall.

But Clinton would have to tango as well. If after the convention she acts like Sanders has socialist cooties, or that appearing on a stage with him would threaten her image with moderate swing voters, Bernie could hardly be blamed if he spent the fall doing something else, either campaigning for progressive candidates lower on the ticket or just resting up in Vermont.

Planting seeds? An in-between possibility was outlined by Michael Lerner of Tikkun: Bernie could try to organize his supporters and contributors into a “Tea Party of the left”. (Lerner suggests the name “Love and Justice Party”).

Like the Tea Party, this wouldn’t be an attempt to break the two-party system, but would be an organized faction inside the Democratic Party. Just as Tea Partiers were adamant in voting against Obama in 2012 and understood that Mitt Romney was their only viable option, there would be no doubt that the Love and Justice Party supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But it would be forming and supporting its own identity rather than merging seamlessly into the Clinton campaign.

At the convention, Sanders delegates could push for changes in the process that would make the Democratic Party more democratic (and presumably more open to a progressive takeover) in future cycles: no superdelegates, no closed primaries, and — even though Bernie did well in them — no caucuses.

For the fall campaign, I picture a message that is honest and authentic: Hillary isn’t everything we want, and we will be watching her like hawks once she takes office. But if you want more people to have access to health care rather than less, if you want to continue talking to Iran rather than bombing it, if you want to expand women’s rights and voting rights and minority rights rather than shrinking them, if you want a higher minimum wage, affordable college, and a job-creating infrastructure program, then Hillary Clinton is the clear choice in this November’s election.

[You can argue that the Greens or an independent Sanders candidacy would represent those positions better, but I think that misses the central point of democracy: It’s not about finding a candidate who agrees with you 100%. If it were, then we should all cast write-in votes for ourselves. Rather than self-expression, democracy is about building favorable governing coalitions.

In a parliamentary system, a vote for Stein would basically be giving her your proxy to negotiate a progressive place in a center-left coalition after the election. But in the American system, voting for Stein means opting out of any possible governing coalition.]

For lower offices, L&J would like some Democrats better than others. Just as Mike Lee and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio entered office identified as Tea Party Republicans, 2017 could see a class of L&J Democrats come to Washington. Going forward, Democrats who were less progressive than their districts might begin to fear primaries, just as insufficiently conservative Republicans do.

Of course, a Love and Justice Party would lack what the Tea Party has always had bushels of: billionaire cash, the kind of seed money that can go looking for a candidate rather than the other way around. Sanders has proved that millions of liberals will give at least a little money to a campaign that excites them. But can that be turned into a lasting political identity?

Forming a party-within-the-party would test whether Bernie’s network of small donors really can assemble into a billionaire-sized megazord. Would they be willing to go on contributing to build a movement, even in years when there is no election, and when the L&J candidates for the next election haven’t emerged yet?

That’s what the Koch Brothers and their friends do for the Tea Party. Can millions of small donors balance them, year in and year out?

The lesson for 2020. As I said earlier, what Clinton’s victory over Sanders has hinged on is the support she has gotten from blacks and Hispanics. Many Sanders supporters have been frustrated by that, because Sanders’ positions on the issues ought to appeal to non-whites, who are even more likely than whites to be on the wrong side of the rigged economy. At times, that frustration has devolved into condescension: What’s wrong with those people? Why aren’t they smart enough to realize which side their bread is buttered on?

But the problem isn’t with them, it’s with us: Many progressives, Bernie included, have a 2-dimensional view of politics. Everything is about ideology and grand proposals like single-payer healthcare. But the Clintons understand that politics is also about relationships and identities. Hillary is winning this race because, long before the official campaign started, she developed relationships in black and Hispanic communities nationwide. Non-whites felt like they knew her and understood exactly how far they could or could not count on her.

Early in the campaign there was an apparently tangential argument about whether Bernie had been involved in the civil rights movement, which his campaign answered by digging up stories of his work as a student activist at University of Chicago in the 1960s. But like so many of the arguments that make up a campaign, the significance of that one was under the surface. The real question in the minds of black voters, particularly in the South, was: “Why am I only hearing about this guy now that he wants my vote?”

You can argue that the people who asked that question were just ignorant, that Bernie had been on their side for a long time and if they didn’t know about him it was their own fault. But that kind of answer doesn’t win anybody’s support.

The next Bernie. If the next progressive candidate, the one who inherits Bernie’s mantle in 2020 or 2024, is going to win among non-whites, he or she has to start building those relationships now. Over the next eight years, a 2024 wannabe needs to invest significant time and effort in working with blacks and Latinos and Asians on the local issues they care about: pushing their legislative proposals, bringing national publicity to their marches and demonstrations, fund-raising for non-white local candidates, and so on.

That runs counter to an image that Bernie has taken advantage of, one appeals to progressive whites: a man of no particular national ambition who suddenly feels the Hand of Fate upon him and realizes he has to take up leadership of the progressive cause. But a candidate who invokes that Cincinnatus image is just going to repeat Bernie’s failure: He or she is going to represent an ideology, and make proposals non-whites ought to like, but not have built the relationships necessary to win.

As much distaste as we might feel for ambitious office-seekers, and as appealing as a candidate untainted by presidential ambition might be, politics is a real profession that calls for real work and real skills. Building a multi-racial progressive coalition is a long-term political project; it needs real politicians who focus on the job for years at a time, not someone who feels the Hand of Fate the year before the election.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • MWL  On April 25, 2016 at 10:21 am

    I think it would be great if Bernie establishes a “tea party of the left,” which will keep Dem politicians from straying too far to the center. But the whole “Bernie or Bust” mentality really scares me. How does allowing Trump to win further progressive causes? There isn’t time to wait another 4 or 8 years to deal with climate change. If Trump ends up appointing two or three Supreme Court justices, a whole generation will suffer. And let’s not forget that with the GOP in charge of all three branches of government, the ACA will be rolled back, voting rights will continue to be assaulted, nothing will happen on the gun problem. I just don’t get people like Jimmy Dore or Susan Sarandon. They remind me of the Nader supporters in 2000, who are in part responsible for a lot of the shit we’ve had to deal with over the last 16 years. In our system, you almost never get a chance to vote for the perfect candidate. It’s almost always a compromise, and often it’s the lesser of two evils. I am also aghast at how some on the left have bought into the “Hillary is the devil,” meme. She may not be great, but policy wise, she’s pretty similar to Obama, and for a president in our 2-party system, he’s been pretty damn good.

  • philebersole  On April 25, 2016 at 10:34 am

    My expectation – although I would be pleased to be proved wrong – is that, after the convention, Clinton will turn her back on the Sanders supporters and try to reach out to the moderate Republicans who are disgusted with Trump.

    My expectation – although I would be pleased to be proved wrong – is that she would try to govern, like her husband and Obama, from the “center” which would mean appeasing all factions as much as necessary to preserve the status quo.

    The status quo is financial oligarchy and perpetual war, so I wouldn’t find that a satisfactory outcome.

    • MWL  On April 25, 2016 at 11:06 am

      It would be a lot less satisfactory if Trump becomes president. (Talk about a state of perpetual war.) What’s more, the country has changed since Bill Clinton was running. Hillary doesn’t have to go to the center to win. Of course, we need massive change in the progressive direction, but it’s not going to happen all at once. With a Republican party that’s so far to the right, we’re in danger of losing what we’ve gained since the Great Society or perhaps even the New Deal. Sitting out the election if Hillary is the nominee is anti-progressive. We have to play defense here.

    • philebersole  On April 25, 2016 at 7:04 pm

      I’d happily vote for a Democrat who was dedicated to protecting the gains of the Great Society or even the New Deal.

      The reason so many Americans turn to candidates such as Donald Trump is that life is getting worse for them, and mainstream liberals and Democrats offer little hope of either peace or prosperity.

      If nobody offers them real hope, they’ll turn to a candidate who offers them false hope.

      Donald Trump is a reaction to the kind of politics that Hillary Clinton has stood for.

  • t Hutchinson.  On April 25, 2016 at 11:28 am

    The Tea Party faction has been a disaster for the Republican Party. What anyone would propose a similar idea for the democrats is beyond me.
    The Republican Party has worked against everything the Democratic Party has proposed since day one of the Obama administration.

    • MWL  On April 25, 2016 at 11:33 am

      He was referring to the tea party model, not their policies.The idea of a faction of the party that keeps pressure on the party as a whole to not stray from the group’s ideology. The Tea Party has managed to keep the Republicans far to the right, so, presumably, a similar structure on the left could keep the Dems more left-leaning.

  • coastcontact  On April 25, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Although many Republicans may not like Trump they hate Clinton. Clinton cannot count on disaffected Republicans to win in November. IMO she needs to find a way to bring Sanders supporters into her campaign. That will be a difficult task.

    • philebersole  On April 25, 2016 at 7:05 pm

      My morning newspaper says the Koch Brothers are considering voting for Hillary Clinton.

  • cnminter  On April 25, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    A fringe group of zealots, who refuse to compromise and insist on idealogical purity for the left. What could possibly go wrong? Other than the fact that our system of government is dependent on representatives being willing to compromise, because our founders were horrified by extremism and believed that real progress came from co-operation, consensus and compromise.
    We don’t need a Tea Party Left. We need the legions self-indulgent so-called progressives to quit going home to pout and sit out elections because they didn’t win.
    Our government does not run on auto pilot. If you truly want the conversation to shift left, vote for the most progressive candidates in all your local elections, every one. Keep the Republicans out, by voting in 2018. Show up consistently and the conversation in 2020 will be more liberal.
    The problem is not Bernie, Hillary or any other politician. The problem is an electorate that is just not showing up, and that’s no way to run a country.

    • David Stow (@ablamj1)  On April 25, 2016 at 9:19 pm

      Those of us who do consistently show up are sick of only getting a choice between Repulican and Republican Light (Obama and Hillary). No more will we play your game!

  • Jeff Rosenberg  On April 25, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    I wonder if this momentum might, paradoxically, translate into a “Public Good” lobby group that could both support ‘liberals’ and truly hold officeholders accountable. I feel like we need a Bill James of politics who could truly quantify the effectiveness of our officeholders. I’d put my “$27” towards a group with such a mission.

  • JJ  On April 26, 2016 at 8:56 am

    Well, if you want a political revolution, you can’t stop with one election. So, yah, I think he should keep pushing for getting money out of politics, and reducing income inequality, and the other things he’s been talking about. He should keep his supports talking about them and pushing for them.

    He should encourage his supporters to “vote for the most progressive candidates in all your local elections, every one” (as cnminter says).

    I think he needs to endorse Hillary as the presidential candidate who is closer to what he wants. He didn’t pull off a win in the Democratic primary and I think that it’s even less likely that he could pull off a win with a 3rd party run. If this is about furthering the progressive agenda, and not about Bernie Sanders’ ego, I think that 3rd party is a bad move.

    I don’t think that Trump could win with a 3rd party run either, but Trump’s ego is central to his campaign, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes that route.

  • eanbehr  On April 26, 2016 at 10:55 am

    It saddens me to witness the death grip with which we hold onto dying dreams. Clinton doesn’t need to move one iota to the left – not one – she just needs to say she will. Once she’s elected, she can do anything she wants. We can’t fire her. And her supporters, her financial ones, the only ones who matter, don’t want her to move left. Why would they? As long as we’re stuck with a two-party system in this country, progressivism is doomed.

    • JJ  On April 26, 2016 at 2:16 pm

      “As long as we’re stuck with a two-party system in this country, progressivism is doomed.”

      Nah, I don’t think that’s the problem.

      “her supporters, her financial ones, the only ones who matter”

      That’s the problem. One big piece of any kind of progressive agenda needs to be getting big money out of politics. There are multiple organizations working on this, including MAYDAY ( and Issue One ( Or check #moneyinpolitics hashtag on Twitter.

      • eanbehr  On April 28, 2016 at 4:17 am

        A political science professor I had once remarked that in any two-party system, the parties will inevitably tack toward the center, which makes sense from a strategic standpoint.

        If it is true that politics makes strange bedfellows, it seems to me that the best way to leverage that is through coalitions which generally require more than two parties.

      • Kim Cooper  On April 28, 2016 at 1:32 pm

        Yes, we need to get big money out of politics, but not just politics. We need to get big corporations out of media. Eanbehr says in a two-party system, both will tack to the center. The Republicans saw this and decided they needed to move the center to the right — the Overton Window. And they bought up media all over the country (and the world) and started a propaganda campaign to move the Overton Window to the right. And they have accomplished that. The rabid right wing in this country has vastly expanded since they started this very deliberate campaign. They took over media and set the Limbaughs of the world to making far right bigotry sound “reasonable”, and they took over business schools, they took over textbook printing, they are in the process of taking over colleges and doing the same. They used think tanks to plan this multi-level plot — you can read the reports. The main one is called Project for the New American Century.
        What we need to do is be as deliberate as the Republicans, and take back our whole culture. First, we need to take back the media and get liberal talkers to extol the more generous side of philosophy, the “we are all in this together” side. (You know that generous is a synonym for liberal, while stingy is a synonym for conservative?) If we can get the American People to go back to seeing us all in this together, it will follow that we will care for each other, the poor, and the planet. It will seem “reasonable” to fix income inequality and bring minorities into the mainstream, end bigotry and exploitation. We might even get to that workless utopia that was promised to us early in the Third Industrial Revolution where the robots taking over work leads to abundance and leisure rather that homelessness and desperation.
        While those liberal ideas may seem reasonable to you, there are vast numbers of people who have been influenced by Limbaugh and others to think they they are far from reasonable, that they are crazy and “librul” and no sane person would be anything but paranoid about strangers and those who are different. Most people are very malleable — way more than they think they are. And it is those “undecideds” and “independents” who are the ones who decide elections these days. We need to be influencing them.

      • JJ  On April 29, 2016 at 7:21 am

        “in any two-party system, the parties will inevitably tack toward the center”

        This idea breaks down when a tiny, tiny fraction of people fund political campaigns. Then both parties will tack toward whatever the funders want. Fortunately, there are people in both parties who see this as a problem and are working to get the money out the election process.

        This idea also breaks down when districts are gerrymandered so that no candidate from the other party can win. Then candidates to challenge the incumbent are likely to only come from further away from the center. FairVote ( is working on this problem.

      • JJ  On April 29, 2016 at 1:28 pm

        “We need to get big corporations out of media.”

        That, too. But from my perspective, money in politics is the lynchpin for dealing appropriately with a great many of our problems. In this case, getting big corporations out of the media would probably require some new laws. Providing a path to elected office that doesn’t require the support of the tiny, tiny fraction of people who fund political campaigns will make it much easier to pass those kind of laws, particularly since the fraction of people fund political campaigns overlaps with the fraction of people who control much of the media.

        If you want big corporations out of the media, it makes sense to support campaign finance reform.

  • SamuraiArtGuy  On April 27, 2016 at 12:24 am

    I wrote on this topic on KOS, and quoted you, but we are of the same mind with this. [ ]

    Sec. Clinton, whether she is just speaking a good game, or really means it, does at least talk about the issues of systemic racism that *specifically* matters to the Black Community, and has learned to speak to them. On Women’s rights, equal pay, reproductive rights. Even if it’s ALL BULLSHIT, she is at least having that conversation. Sen. Sanders’ overall policies are probably, in the mass and for the long term, better for the nation. But those policies would work in the “raises all boats” sense, in that they would affect all Americans. However, specific constituencies still want to feel that you are talking to them and their specific issues, especially if that cohort feels disenfranchised and excluded from the corridors of power. They feel that when you speak to America as a while – you are not speaking to them as outsiders. Speaking to all Americans resonates a lot less when you feel you’re considered less than a citizen.

    • jh  On May 8, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      In addition – Clinton isn’t promising the world and everything. Bernie is promising something so pie-in-the-sky that minorities don’t have any faith that Bernie can accomplish anything that he promises. The minority experience in the US has been of constant struggle and pushing to get 1 inch. The idea that Bernie can magically turn that inch into a mile appears nonsensical to many minorities.

      Remember – even after the civil rights act of 1964, it wasn’t like the US suddenly flipped a switch and turned into a non-racist country. The minority experience understands Clinton’s message of hard work to move the pointer 1 degree left.

      Unlike the gay flip, minorities don’t have the luxury of looking like white people. That’s why gay marriage and gay men/women are far more acceptable now. White people have or know somebody who is gay. But most white people don’t have close friends who are people of color. We live highly segregated lives in the US. The white person may like Beyonce for her music but that’s where the line is drawn. That white person isn’t really invested in the racial struggle that Beyonce considers intrinsic to african american life. That white person may like Beyonce but that doesn’t mean that white person likes the “welfare queen” that is often invoked in coded dog whistles.

  • cgordon  On May 2, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    If, or when, Clinton is the nominee, I’ll donate $27 to her campaign. Probably more than once, but $27 each time.


  • By Getting Through | The Weekly Sift on April 25, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    […] week’s featured posts are “Beyond Bernie 2016” and “Why You Should Care About Felon Voting […]

  • […] next for Sanders and his movement. I’ll post the most interesting ones I find here. Here’s a really high-level look at his options. Here’s another one. Both are worth reading if you are into this sort of thing! And […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: