Palin Comparison: How Bernie Sanders Continues to Stymie Democratic Candidates
Last night's special election for Montana's lone congressional seat was a referendum on Bernie Sanders.
The Vermont Senator had made it his mission to personally inject himself into the race as a way to prove that his brand of populism could win over the White working class, even in a deep red state like Montana. By endorsing Democratic candidate Rob Quist in April and personally campaigning for him across the state over the past weekend, Sanders made it clear that he had a vested interest in the outcome of the election. Combined with the fact that Quist himself turned down a visit from DNC Chair Tom Perez as well as his refusal to accept any Super PAC money and it became clear that this campaign would closely mirror the one run by Sanders during his presidential bid in 2016. It was, essentially, an opportunity for Bernie Sanders to once again create a political revolution, this time against a millionaire, Donald Trump-supporting Republican who physically assaulted a reporter the night before the election.
And once again, Sanders lost. Bigly.
The fact that a congressional race in Montana is now somewhat competitive for Democrats is unquestionably a good sign heading into the 2018 midterm elections. But make no mistake about it: Bernie Sanders did not inject himself into this race to gently move the needle in this direction. He wanted to win. He needed a win. This race represented everything he's come to believe about himself. That he and he alone can reach out to disenchanted White working class voters even if they live in rural red areas. That DNC support isn't necessary. That a progressive candidate can win despite being outspent 9:1 by outside money. These were all deeply held beliefs that Sanders held dear and they were beliefs that he felt would lead to victory in a state that Donald Trump won by 20 points in November.
But these beliefs did not pan out and a key reason for that seems to have been Sanders' belief that he can win solely by speaking to the economic anxiety of the White working class. However, we've seen Sanders back a number of failed progressive candidates and the only unifying factor for all these losses seems to be Bernie Sanders himself. For example, Sanders supported failed Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello in deep-red Nebraska. However, Sanders also supported failed congressional candidates Lucy Flores in Nevada and Tim Canova in Florida, as well as failed Wisconsin senatorial candidate Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, all in swing states. Sanders even went so far as to support failed congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout in New York and failed gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter in Vermont in reliably blue areas. What Sanders' track record shows is that his endorsement alone cannot make the difference in a competitive race at any level no matter how many adoring fans show up to hear him speak.
And this is why Bernie Sanders has now reached Sarah Palinesque levels. There is a stench of failure associated with him and what he stands for. His stump speech, including his pie-in-the-sky progressive platform, did not win over the majority of Democratic voters in 2016 and they won't do so now. Voters in Nebraska and Montana could care less about the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street. Politics is local. Yes, these people care about health care, a staple of any Bernie Sanders stump speech. But they would rather make sure they keep their own health care right now rather than worry about implementing a single payer system years and years down the road. Want to truly reach out to these voters about health care? Tell them that Republicans want to charge them more for health insurance if they just so happen to have diabetes. That is something that is a very real concern for these everyday Americans.
But Sanders is too stubborn to change. He has tasted the elixir of adoration and refuses to acknowledge his failings. He will continue to call for the removal of big money in politics all while a Republican congressional candidate who assaults a reporter is willing to take in and spend nine times as much outside money as his opponent in order to win. Rob Quist is more than welcome to pat himself on the back for not accepting outside money during this race. Meanwhile, his Republican opponent will be sworn in to Congress where he will vote time and time again against the best interests of his constituents. Do we honestly believe that Greg Gianforte will lose any sleep knowing that he used conservative super PACs to help get himself elected to the United States House of Representatives? Based on his interaction with Ben Jacobs, it's safe to say that that is probably not something that will keep him up at night.
So while Bernie Sanders continues to die on a hill of ideological purity, future Democratic candidates should be wise to reject his endorsement. As much as groups like the Justice Democrats would like to believe they have a pulse on the progressive movement, the fact is that Bernie Sanders' brand of economic populism simply doesn't do it for the majority of the Democratic base. And it is this base, formed by an all-encompassing Obama coalition, that is the future of the Democratic Party. Progressivism will not come to Montana overnight, no matter how many speeches Bernie Sanders makes in Billings. But where progressivism can and will thrive is in areas where progressive candidates realize that not all of society's problems can and should be viewed solely through an economic lens. It is those candidates who raise numerous issues related to intersectionality of race, gender, religion, and sexuality that will truly be able to connect with the coalition that got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton the most votes in our nation's history. Connect with them, and you become a serious candidate for any office to which you might aspire.
And, best of all, you don't have to campaign with Bernie Sanders any time soon.
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