Northampton, Massachusetts—When Bernie Sanders said in a Nation interview in March that he was prepared—not at all certain, but prepared—to run for the presidency, that got a lot of political activists thinking.
They were thinking about the prospect of a presidential run by a progressive populist who speaks bluntly about the need for a “political revolution” to tip the balance away from oligarchy and toward democracy. But they were also thinking about the ballot line on which the senator from Vermont might seek to build a movement-driven campaign not just for the presidency but for a new American politics.
Sanders caucuses with the Senate Democrats, but he has never been a Democrat. He started in politics as a candidate seeking statewide posts in the 1970s on the ballot line of Vermont’s left-wing Liberty Union Party. He was elected mayor of Burlington in 1981 as an independent who went on to beat the Democrats and the Republicans in election after election. His tenure in Burlington spurred local third-party activism, laying the groundwork for the Vermont Progressive Party, which is today one of the most successful state-based progressive parties in modern American history. Sanders was elected to the US House and the US Senate as an independent. And his criticisms of the compromises made by both major parties—harsher toward the Republicans, but plenty pointed toward the Democrats—are central to the message he delivers on the stump, in media appearances and in Washington.
So, if Sanders were to run for the presidency, would he do so as a Democrat, taking on the prospective candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and perhaps others in the 2016 caucuses and primaries?
Would he consider running as a Green, embracing a party that has secured and maintained ballot lines in states across the country and that has had significant success electing local officials in a number of regions?
Or would he mount an independent campaign, perhaps with an eye toward building a new party politics that combines economic populism, environmental advocacy and a commitment to social justice?