Senator Bernie Sanders has finally heeded calls to exit the presidential race. We might be tempted to call this a failure, but Sanders has been an extremely successful candidate — if we measure success not by votes, but by influence. While many Americans may be breathing easier now that the prospect of a socialist president has been avoided, we shouldn’t underestimate how Sanders has shaped American politics: His socialist proposals have moved from the fringe to the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
Sanders’ exit from the race does not signal the end of his legacy. For one thing, Sanders has pledged to remain on the ballot and keep amassing delegates heading into the convention. Delegates give him considerable leverage over the party platform.
But his long-term influence runs deeper; Sanders has consistently advocated for a whole host of items on the progressive wish list and declared economic, social, racial, and environmental justice basic human rights guaranteed by the government. This platform appeals to a young, diverse coalition, and that’s not going away.
In 2016, his candidacy was marked by distrust of the Democratic establishment and a disregard for party unity, which led to a feud with the eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton which still simmers. Bernie Bros, young male supporters known for their mob-like tendencies, made it clear their support could not be swayed even as the candidate himself urged them to support Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.
In the intervening years, Sanders’ once-revolutionary hallmark proposals — wealth redistribution, single-payer healthcare, free college, mandates on corporate governance, and a higher minimum wage — have become the de-facto Democratic platform. Polls show a majority of Democrats support his key proposals. However, support drops significantly among all voters when they are informed of the costs. Approximately 63% of respondents initially approve of a $15 minimum wage, but when informed about the Congressional Budget Office’s projected costs and subsequent job losses, the approval rate drops to 37%.
Nearly all of the two dozen 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls endorsed these ideas. Top tier candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren even outlined detailed plans to implement them… which in Warren’s case led to her downfall when the math didn’t add up.
A slate of candidates and recently elected lawmakers ranging from pop culture favorite Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (AOC) to San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon credit Sanders as their inspiration to run for office. Ocasio Cortez stated, “The only reason that I had any hope in launching a long-shot campaign for Congress is because Bernie Sanders proved that you can run a grassroots campaign and win…” This election cycle, AOC endorsed Sanders and actively campaigned for him until he received the endorsement of popular podcast host Joe Rogan. This led AOC to pull back and complain that the “tent was too big.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi probably regrets her earlier dismissals of the so-called “squad:” Reps. AOC, Pressley, Omar, and Tlaib. Pelosi’s admonitions to settle intraparty business behind closed doors have gone unheeded. Bernie Sanders’ successive presidential bids have built a powerful coalition of activists that have become the core of the Democratic base and a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. Unlike typical freshman lawmakers, Ocasio Cortez and her 6.7 million Twitter followers are not going to quietly be taken to the proverbial woodshed by party leadership anymore.
Biden will win the nomination but has lost his bid to simply preserve President Obama’s signature achievement: the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Instead, he will be forced to adopt a watered-down version of Medicare for All or be forced to deal with the Bernie Bros.
Moderates are out; progressive socialists are in. Sanders has achieved his ultimate goal, which was the transformation of the Democratic Party and he didn’t even have to change his political affiliation as an Independent to do it.
Now more than ever, conservatives need to explain why capitalism, limited government and individual responsibility lift more people out of poverty better than any government program or redistribution scheme.
Bernie shows us that ideas, ultimately, are more important than the candidates who carry them forth.