For the democratic primaries this year, things were different. The field of candidates was massive that included career politicians such as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, a couple newcomers in Pete Buttigieg and Andrew Yang, and more female candidates than ever before. The electorate had a plethora of options and the two main ideologies of the party were battling to see who would ultimately come out on top.
From the voter’s standpoint, the progressives initially thought they would have a much better chance of winning this year than in 2016 since the vote among the centrists’ candidates would be split multiple ways. The media had a completely different mindset. Many pundits on traditionally liberal networks gave Bernie and Warren no chance to win at all. But at the very least getting some coverage, unlike establishment outsiders such as Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard.
Yang and Gabbard’s campaigns should have gotten more attention, there’s no doubt about it. Both put forward messages that were nontraditional. Tulsi was vehemently against wars for the sole purpose of regime change. Traditionally, the United states has been very much involved in regime changes around the world. So this was definitely an outsider position. And Yang was a proponent of Universal Basic Income and proposed the decriminalization of opiates and marijuana.
Even into December, Yang and Gabbard were still polling well. In an Emerson poll (Dec 15-17), both were edging out Bloomberg, Klobuchar, Booker and Steyer. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Gabbard was still being touted as a Russian asset and Yang was still being left off of news shows’ graphics.
What does all of this mean? Well its pretty simple. The media does not want an outsider to become the presidential nominee. That part is clear. The reasoning behind that can be up for debate. I’m of the opinion that because the DNC has so much pull over the media, anyone who goes against them is treated as a threat. But that debate can be had another time.
What I would like to focus on now is how the primary ended up playing out and how Bernie should have been able to get better results.
Coming out of 2016, even though progressives said that the primaries were rigged, the overall spirits about the movement itself were still pretty high. This led to a great showing of progressives in the 2018 midterms. Headlined by Rashida Tlaib, Ilhand Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, many supporters felt that the progressives could not be stopped. This likely led to a false sense of security. That was the first issue.
Now I’d like to focus on specifically Bernie’s campaign. There are a few issues that I personally believe played a major impact in the campaigns failure to secure the nomination. While in reality there’s a multitude of reasons Bernie failed to obtain the 2020 democratic presidential nomination, there are 3 key components I would like to point out.
First, I’d like to start with the overall message of the campaign. The campaign slogan is Not me. Us. It’s pretty self-explanatory. The electorate (us) are the movement, not just Bernie. But if that’s truly the case, why run such a divisive campaign? In 2016, Clinton took it to the extreme by stating that some Trump supporters fit into a “basket of deplorables”. While that’s far more extreme than Bernie or his campaign surrogates ever suggested that mindset just doesn’t sit well with people.
As pundits love point out, there was a sizable portion of people who voted for Bernie in the primaries, ended up voting for Trump in the general. These individuals are likely independent issue voters. And if you have one side suggesting that you’re “deplorable” for even supporting Trump, then why would you ever give them your support? As a side it media always fails to also mention that in 2008, close to 25% of Clinton voters ended up voting for McCain in the general. While the divisiveness was likely a great way to energize the more radical portion of the base, it surely did not help win over people on the fence.
Also tied in with the campaign messaging, is how Bernie used his stump speech. In 2016 and 2020, they essentially never changed. He would rely on his bread and butter all too often. Whereas when he was able to allow himself to be a little more open and intimate, those were some of his most moving moments. The town hall setting allowed him to be more of himself.
To get directly to the point, just vary the message. Don’t solely rely on the stump speech whenever questioned. There were plenty of debates where he would answer a question and then I’d say to myself “well, here comes the stump speech again.”
This go around, Bernie’s campaign focused most of their energy on the younger voters. It seems that there was a decision to instead spending most of the energy on vying for traditional voters’ support, to go after young voters. This voting bloc is traditionally unreliable. For reference in 2016, only 43% of people between ages 18 and 29 voted. Depending on this core group was not ideal.
But there’s a little more to the story than the youth not turning out. The actual numbers show that the youth are turning out to vote, but the older generations are coming out in droves . This is a point many people haven’t paid attention to. The surge of older voters far surpasses any gains Bernie has made with the youth.
But Bernie and his campaign should have been aware of this. Or at least the possibility that could happen. Instead, they tried to double down after the first few primaries. Instead of changing their strategy, they just kept chugging along and hoping that things would get better. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification of things, but there’s real evidence to show that their strategy did not work.
NOTE: If you’re interested in learning more on the impact of youth in politics, I highly suggest you read The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: How a New Generation of Leaders Will Transform America by Charlotte Alter
The last point I’d like to make on the Bernie campaign is on the national campaign staff. His staff was headlined by campaign manager Faiz Shakir. This was a major change from his previous campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. Weaver has been involved with Bernie’s campaigns since 1986. The level of familiarity he had with Bernie was quite high. With this and other changes in Bernie’s campaign staff, from the outside it seems that there was a bit of dissension.
What I mean by this is that there seemed to be conflicting ideas. At exactly what level, I couldn’t tell you. But what I do know is that Bernie is the type of person who does not like conflict with colleagues – whether it be fellow congresspeople or other presidential candidates. Over the course of this campaign cycle, we’ve heard Bernie say several times that he considers himself friends with the other candidates. But as Nomiki Konst suggests on The Majority Report podcast, it seems that some crucial messages about how to handle certain situations were not getting through.
Whether that was because Bernie is someone who is just set in his way and rejecting the idea of doing something different, or there was some mismanagement on the staff side, things didn’t seem to run as effectively as they should. For example, lets look at when Klobuchar and Buttigieg suddenly dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden.
While how suddenly it happened was a bit shocking, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that the moderate wing of the establishment would coalesce around Biden. But it seems to have caught the Sanders campaign off guard. This is something they should have been prepared for and had an answer to.
Although he did not win the presidential nomination either time he ran, Bernie Sanders should not be considered a failure. What he has done to build a substantial multi-racial and generational coalition should not be understated. It is truly remarkable the amount of enthusiasm he has garnered amongst his base. He was able to tap into something primal that got people engaged.
His message that real change always starts from the bottom up has really energized people. For example, I likely would not be writing this today if it were not for Bernie. Up until Bernie announced he was going to enter the 2016 democratic primary, there had never been a candidate that had really come close to my ideology. While I’ve always voted democrat, it was simply because they were the ones closest to my beliefs and ideals.
It wasn’t until Bernie came along that I actually got excited to vote. Finally, there’s someone that truly represents me and what I stand for.
But now that this primary season is over, what’s going to happen? Well either Biden will continue to square of vs. Trump or somehow the DNC would pull the ole switcharoo. I seriously doubt that is a legitimate consideration as it would be a massive slap to the face of democracy.
As far as the progressive movement goes, there will need to be some changes going forward. There will need to be a new face of the movement. While I’m not sure who that is, I hope it’s someone that will be a bit more aggressive than Bernie. Someone that will call people out on their hypocrisy and not back down from their lies. Also maybe take a page out of Trump’s playbook and embrace the media. As much as Trump touts his hatred for certain media outlets, he is keenly aware of the impact the media can have.
As I’ve stated elsewhere, lets now focus on getting Trump out of office. And then, it’s time to regroup, reorganize, and GO HARD!