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Bernie Sanders Is Out. Where Does That Leave His Movement?
On Wednesday afternoon, Bernie Sanders, independent Senator from Vermont, dropped out of the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary. “Over the course of the past five years our movement has won the ideological struggle,” he claimed in his live-streamed concession speech.
The announcement came a day after Wisconsin held its election in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The primary took place despite stay-at-home orders and attempts by the Governor to postpone the election. “I could not in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required by all of us in this difficult hour,” Sanders said. The results from the Wisconsin election are not expected to start coming in until April 13.
With his concession, former Vice President Joe Biden is now the presumptive nominee. Biden, a moderate among the 2020 candidates, is part of what Sanders’ supporters consider “the Democratic Establishment”. Sanders has indicated that he will continue to use his platform to push the party towards a more progressive agenda.
Sanders Campaign Births Modern Progressive Movement
The groundswell of support for the Sanders campaign in 2015 shocked the political landscape. The legacy of his five-year Presidential bid was two-fold: the birth of a new generation of progressive politicians and the division of the Democratic party into two distinct camps.
In 2018, young progressive politicians like Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a Democrat from New York, were elected to the House on the Democratic Socialist wave started by Sanders.
While during the 2016 campaign the Sanders brand of politics felt radical, his policies set the tone for 2020. Every candidate was forced to respond to where they stand on key Sanders issues like Medicare for All, free college education, and income inequality. For a few weeks, Sanders even seemed like the 2020 front runner.
His campaign, often operating move like a grassroots movement than a traditional political machine, also helped to alienate a generation of young voters from the Democratic party. The political divisions within the party are not as stark as those between the parties. Yet, tensions run high between those who still blame Sanders for Clinton’s 2016 loss and those who are unwilling to compromise on ideology. In a different political system, these groups would likely be entirely separate parties.
The Bernie Movement Pushes Forward
In the crowded 2020 field where Sanders only shared am ideological space with Elizabeth Warren, the progressive Senator from Massachusettes, Sanders had an edge. As the moderates split their vote between a handful of similar-enough candidates, Sanders was consistently able to lead the pack.
After Biden’s sweeping victory in South Carolina, moderates like Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped out and endorsed Biden. The coordinated moderate coalescing in the days leading up to Super Tuesday helped propel Biden to a surprising win. His initial embarrassing losses and campaign gaffes seem all but forgotten.
Still, the progressive wing of the party holds a lot of power. Even while Biden performed well among black voters, Sanders still out-performed Biden among black voters under 30. If Biden fails to motivate progressive and young voters, another four more years of President Trump is likely.
Sanders plans to use this leverage to push for a more progressive party platform in the meantime. In his concession speech, Sanders stated that he plans to stay on the ballot and rack up convention delegates.
“We must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention,” he said, “where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions.”
“Then together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history. And we will fight to elect strong progressives at every level of government from Congress to the school board.”
Next Steps for Biden
Biden, for his part, has made a few attempts to court Bernie voters. He has announced new healthcare and student loan forgiveness policies that may be attractive to Sanders voters.
By promising a female running mate, Biden may also help court some female voters. Women will be an important bloc for the Biden, and could be otherwise put off by multiple allegations of sexual harassment or assault against the former Vice President. It’s still unclear how these allegations will impact the general election, where both men running are accused of sexual misconduct.
Still, these concessions may not be enough to get progressives to fall in line behind the Democratic establishment, which many Bernie Supporters feel treated their candidate unfairly from the beginning. The new generation of leftists radicalized by his campaign appears unshakeable in their convictions. Supporters hold steady to Sanders’ slogan even as they mourn his exit from the race: “Not me, us.”