Bernie Sanders: From dark horse to revolutionary lion

Harrison Burns—Staff Writer

April 2015. Hillary Clinton announces she is running for president, solidifying herself as the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. Her only democratic challenger is a largely unknown senator from Vermont.

One year later, and Clinton’s 50-point lead among Democratic voters has been cut down as low as 2 points in an April 2016 NBC/WSJ poll. By the end of the primary, this sole challenger had nearly defeated Clinton with 23 states won and 1,846 pledged delegates. The senator was named Bernie Sanders, now a household name in political discourse and viewed by many as the new face of today’s democratic party.

“He got a tiger by the tail. All of a sudden, he emerges on the scene and he became an immediate legend. People didn’t know who he was,” Sander’s supporter RoseAnn DeMoro said to USA Today during his 2016 run.

With Sanders just announcing his second run for the Democratic nomination, the senator aims to succeed in 2020 where he fell short in 2016.

Throughout the 1970’s, Sanders ran for office a total of four times, twice for the office of Vermont governor and twice for Vermont senator, all unsuccessfully. Finally, in 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont, winning by a narrow 10 votes as an independent. He continued as mayor for four terms until being elected into the House of Representatives for another eight terms. In 2007, Sanders was elected to the position of senator, a position he still holds.

Sanders’ persistence in climbing up the political food chain is now paying off, as he has become the de facto leader of the modern Progressive movement. As Sanders grows in name recognition, so does the fervor of his supporters. Within just 24 hours of announcing his 2020 bid for the presidency, the senator raised almost 6 million dollars for his campaign, a record just recently broken by Beto O’Rourke. This massive haul was solely from small-dollar donations, with over 200,000 individual contributors.

Beyond his monetary victories, Bernie takes his place as a major frontrunner in every major poll between the candidates who are currently running. Joe Biden, who has yet to announce his campaign at the time of writing, is the only Democrat who currently tops Sanders.

Sanders bolsters this energetic support from his base, comprised primarily of younger people. During the 2016 primaries, Sanders received more votes from 18- to 29-year-old minorities than Clinton and Trump combined. He received 70 percent of the youth vote over Clinton in 2016.

The senator’s meteoric rise mirrors Donald Trump’s 2016 ascension. While the two candidates are opposites in policy, they are politically unified in their embrace of populism. Just as Trump shattered the normative campaign process with his brash demeanor, Sanders’ unpolished gruffness and anti-establishment rhetoric made him an effective foil to Clinton’s calculated image. Both Trump and Sanders tapped into the anger felt by middle-class working Americans against the establishment and a “rigged economy,” creating populist revolutions in each party.

“My hope is that when future historians look back and describe how our country moved forward into reversing the drift toward oligarchy, and created a government which represents all the people and not just the few,” Sanders said, “they will note that, to a significant degree, that effort began with the political revolution of 2016.”

Though Clinton did win the nomination in 2016, Sanders has proved victorious in the ideological battle. Many of the policies Sanders was pushing that were once considered fringe are now being embraced by both the public and candidates. Sanders’ refusal to receive any corporate Super-PAC money has become the new default position of a democratic candidate, as has the issue of Medicare-for-All, following Sanders’ insistence on Medicare as a right.

Nearly every progressive policy (free college, living wage, climate change, campaign reform, etc.) has been welcomed by usually centrist candidates like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, a shift that can be traced to Sanders’ monumental influence in the 2016 election.

This shift to the left in the Democratic party has been demonstrated with more Democratic-Socialist politicians rising and following Sanders lead, most prominently Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The policies behind these new Sanders-type politicians are also growing in popularity, as seen in the 2018 Reuters–Ipsos poll showing an 70% support of Medicare-for-All by Americans compared to a 2015 Kaiser Health Tracking poll showing 58% support, a 12-point increase.

However, Sanders’ ride to the White House is not without its obstacles. He faces cries of sexism within certain leftist circles after the New York Times story of sexual assault by lower-level employees within his campaign. While Sanders’ name recognition has increased, so to have his unfavorable characteristics. A NBC/WSJ poll that tested 11 presidential characteristics, found the two least popular traits were “over 75 years old” and “socialist,” two of the most defining traits of his candidacy.

Overcoming these undesirable characteristics and the stark divisions between the factions in the Democratic party will be the major challenges of his campaign.

March 2019. Sanders stands in the cold of Chicago, just a few blocks from where he was born, surrounded by 12,000 supporters. With this rally, he launches his 2020 campaign, driven by the same stubbornness that has propelled the rest of his political career.

At the rally on March 3, Sanders articulated his central message: “Real change never takes place from the top on down. It always takes place from the bottom on up.”

With one more shot at the presidency, American politics is about to “feel the Bern” for another election cycle.

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