Bernie Sanders is in a strong position to shake up Democratic Party politics. But the chaos at last week’s Nevada state convention reveals a real possibility that his candidacy could end up as little more than a footnote in the story of the 2016 campaign.
Sanders didn’t get into the race because of ego, or a quest for personal power. In 2013, John Nichols reported for The Nation that Sanders doubted he would run for president if another candidate offered “a seriously focused and seriously competitive populist alternative to politics as usual.” A year later, he told Salon he was considering a run because “the nature of media is that presidential campaigns…are a means…of getting these issues out there.”
In that sense, it’s impossible to overstate how successful he’s been. Not only because he’s won 20 primary contests, or moved Hillary Clinton demonstrably to the left on a number of key issues—for the first time in five years, a majority of Americans say it’s the government’s responsibility “to make sure all Americans have health-care coverage,” and a plurality—including most Democrats—are now in favor of tuition-free public colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, according to a Morning Consult survey, Sanders is now the most popular senator on Capitol Hill. He has an opportunity to end the race as one of the most popular presidential candidates in recent history.
But the kinds of sweeping, transformational changes that Sanders calls for have only ever been achieved with a coordinated inside/outside strategy. While Sanders supporters are quick to note that Hillary Clinton can’t win the 2016 election without their support, many of them overlook the fact that the broader progressive movement can’t achieve the goals Sanders champions if it alienates those who backed Clinton.
The Sanders campaign has created serious progressive infrastructure independent of the Democratic Party. As Micah Sifry reported for The Nation back in March, they’ve given thousands of activists the tools they need to fight effectively at the local level. So that’s the “outside” part of the strategy.