October began in the worst way possible for Sen. Bernie Sanders, as he underwent surgery to treat an artery blockage and was forced to cancel his scheduled campaign events until further notice.
Sanders was at the fourth Democratic debate on Tuesday, but this recent medical emergency raises new questions about his ability to survive a term in the White House.
That being said, it’s almost impossible to deny the importance of what he’s accomplished during two presidential campaigns. In 2016, Sen. Sanders managed to gather a strong supporter base, despite what some considered to be “too far left” for the Democratic party. Although the nomination would end up going to Hillary Clinton, Sanders still managed to shift the Democratic talking points in a new and progressive direction.
This shift in focus for the party is part of what helped open the door for so many progressive Democrats in 2018. Without Sanders’ campaign, Democrats having been able to energize enough voters to retake the House seems unlikely, guaranteeing they would have been unsuccessful in an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.
Even beyond 2016, his political escapades have helped define the future of the party. As the 2020 election draws near, this new focus for the party is on full display as many of the party’s front runners are emphasizing policies that would have been unheard of eight years ago.
From Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend of $1,000 a month and Sen. Cory Booker’s baby bonds program to Universal Childcare and Medicare for All, which has support from almost all major candidates, these policies are proof of the new progressive agenda of the party. These ideas energize young people in ways that no candidate has been able to in the past, and all of these are due in part to Sanders’ success in 2016.
Speaking of young people, it was his success with young voters that helped garner much of his support. The lovable, meme-able senator appealed to young people in ways that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump could never have imagined, which garnered him massive returns in 2016.
It was this surge in young voters, alongside the tense attitudes that polluted the Democratic National Convention, that forced the Democratic National Committee to change its rulings on super-delegates ahead of the 2020 election. Without the influence of super-delegates, candidates deemed “too extreme” for the fairly moderate party insiders still have a significant chance of winning, which is a benefit to both Sen. Sanders and his longtime colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
But, given the recent health scare, should Sen. Sanders continue to run for the nomination? Personally, I don't believe that to be a strong plan. While he is a strong competitor and can energize young voters in ways other candidates are simply unable to, he’s reaching a point where his age is becoming an ever-present risk to his candidacy. So, who could replace him? Given the current Democratic field, is there a candidate who could be able to energize people in a way that can allow them to overcome President Trump and claim victory in 2020?
Yes. I mean, I don’t think it would go over well with anyone if I had all this build-up, only to say there was nobody to replace him.
Personally, the only candidate I can foresee carrying on Sanders’ progressive movement is Sen. Warren, someone who has worked closely with Sen. Sanders for years. Her plans closely mirror those of the Vermont senator, in many ways serving as a “moderate’s Bernie Sanders” for pushing progressive plans with realistic expectations and policies to achieve them. Her appeal has been steadily growing as she closes the gap on current front runner Joe Biden, adding even more momentum to her political movement.
Is she capable of beating President Trump? It’s too early to tell, and Sen. Sanders staying in the race certainly isn’t helping. As more and more Sanders supporters declare themselves to be “Bernie or Bust,” we are starting to see patterns reflective of 2016, as the “Bernie Bros” broke away from the Democratic Party over Hillary Clinton receiving the nomination.
So, what’s the best course of action? How do we make sure that doesn’t happen? Simply put, Sen. Sanders needs to drop out of the race. If he concedes in a polite and respectable way, he can direct his base to fall in line behind Sen. Warren and give her the push she needs to take the party nomination.
Sanders doesn’t need to win the nomination to enact the changes he wants to see. He doesn’t need to hold the highest office to bring about the greatest social reforms. His impact on the Democratic party is one that will remain for decades, or even centuries, and will help shape the future of American politics as we know it. He might not win the Presidency, but he’s already won the fight for the people.