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Can Bernie Win As the Frontrunner, and As the 'Establishment' Progressive?

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | December 3, 2018 |

By Dustin Rowles | Politics | December 3, 2018 |


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Last night, someone on Twitter asked who is the most overrated Democratic nominee in 2020, and though I loathe the word overrated, I checked the replies all the same. My scientific guestimate is that 3500 of the 3600 replies listed Bernie Sanders.

Not that the Vermont Senator should take his cues on whether to run in 2020 from a question asked by a man with a poodle as an avatar, but the replies are not wrong. Bernie’s 2016 campaign was as successful as it was because he introduced new, progressive ideas into the conversation, he was running against the establishment, and he was positioned as the underdog.

People love an underdog — there are, like, nine Rocky movies to prove this — but as Bernie’s campaign manager told the AP this weekend, “This time, he starts off as a front-runner or one of the front-runners.” Front-runners have to withstand the scrutiny of front-runners. In 2016, all that scrutiny was placed on Hillary, which took the heat off Bernie, and the fact that Hillary managed to survive it and go on to win the popular vote showed her resilience, and her ability to absorb criticism. I’m not so sure that Bernie could have withstood it — the few times he’s been called out, he’s not been able to handle it well.

But by anointing Sanders as a front-runner, he’s already lost half his luster, especially when younger, more personable candidates have taken Bernie’s progressive ideas and put them in more attractive packages, ones that aren’t tarnished by a troubling blind spot when it comes to race. The Democrats handily defeated the Republicans — with the biggest popular margin vote ever — in the 2018 midterms by winning nearly 60 percent of the female vote, and 90 percent of the Black vote.

But an old white guy from Vermont with a blind spot when it comes to race thinks he can do better, as the Washington Post reports. “Even as Democrats won back the House of Representatives last month, some high-profile left-wing candidates fell short, a dynamic Sanders struggled with; he opened the weekend conference by saying the party could have done better.”

The Democrats picked up 40 seats and won the popular vote by 9 million voters, which is triple Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in 2016, and Hillary handily defeated Bernie as he was running as a popular underdog. And Bernie thinks he can do better than that? Even some of Bernie’s supporters are skeptical, like Danny Glover. From the AP:

Acknowledging the stark differences between the 2016 and 2020 fields, Hollywood star Danny Glover, who campaigned alongside Sanders in 2016, would not commit to a second Sanders’ candidacy when asked this weekend.

“I don’t know what 2020 looks like right now,” Glover said before taking a front-row seat for Sanders’ opening remarks. “I’m going to support who I feel to be the most progressive choice.”

All the same, a 2020 announcement from Bernie is all but a done deal, and he is eyeing an even bigger 2020 campaign, which — in a way — makes him the “establishment” progressive candidate. There’s certainly no guarantee that his support will materialize again, however. There haven’t been a lot of 2020 polls, but the ones that do exist show Bernie behind Joe Biden by about 20 points, which means that Bernie will be working from behind as a frontrunner, and those Bandwagon Bernie Bros. are probably searching for another underdog candidate they can back in 2020.

But at least Bernie’s still got Lloyd Dobler’s vote. “Since we need to take such bold steps forward, it might be that we need someone who’s been clear and consistent for 40 years,” said John Cusack, an actor and activist. “I hope to God that he runs and wins.”



Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.



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