As unexpectedly skillful as Bernie Sanders turned out to be as a presidential candidate, he may be positioned now to be even better in another capacity: Movement leader.
The Vermont senator has done a terrific job getting as far as he has in the presidential primary. Starting with almost nothing in the presidential run against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, he battled very nearly to a draw. Up until the New York primary, he retained a plausible route to the nomination, scoring some overwhelming wins along the way.
New York turned a page. To win the nomination, he would have to take a majority of the pledged delegates nationally, and after yesterday that means he would need overwhelming wins almost everywhere still on the calendar. Wins he probably will get (Oregon, likely, for one), but not on that scale. That’s not going to happen.
The typical response to this kind of situation is to “suspend” the campaign – call a halt, keeping the organization technical alive for a while to allow for additional fundraising to pay off the bills.
Sanders’ response may be a little different, and in the interest of his cause probably should be.
He still has money and enthusiasm, and he can leverage them. He could stay active through the rest of the primary season, into June and California, winning as many delegates as he can. The object would not be to defeat Clinton, whose eventual nomination is close to a lock now. The point rather would be to form a large and powerful bloc at the convention, and beyond. It would not constitute a nominating majority, but it would be so large a portion of the overall delegation that it could not be safely ignored. It could make demands. And it could apply pressure, as it has for most of a year now, on Hillary Clinton.
When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 he did it with a massive organization organized extremely well. Had he kept it operative as an active grass roots effort supporting his administration’s efforts, a great deal of the history since – notably the off-year elections of 2010 and 2014 – might have turned out quite a bit differently. At this point, even while falling short of the nomination, Sanders has an organization as large and enthusiastic, and capable of financing itself, as Obama had, and maybe more so. If Hillary Clinton is elected president, she might well run into the same kind of Republican brick wall – even if Democrats retake the Senate – that Obama has. A Sanders-led grass roots organization could both serve as a counterweight to that brick wall, and push Clinton into more ambitious efforts than she might attempt otherwise.
There’s an old story about Franklin Roosevelt that tells of one of his political allies urging the president to undertake some program. Roosevelt was not opposed, but he saw the political obstacles, and the possible overall political cost to his administration, if he tried launching it on his own. His response to the ally: “Make me do it.”
In other words, pressure me into doing it, in such a way that the political forces in favor of passage amount to not just me, but also much more.
You could consider it a sort of value-added shadow presidency, that Sanders could pursue if he keeps his organization intact and active beyond November. What could happen as a result might be no small thing.Share on Facebook