He came. He saw. For a moment, it seemed like he was coming from behind to conquer the caucus and take his “political revolution” to the next level. But when U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) lost the Nevada Democratic Caucus to Hillary Clinton in 2016, it instead sparked a chain of events that led to the internal soul-searching amongst Democrats here in Nevada and nationally today.
Here in Henderson, Sanders sought to reset the narrative when he declared, “[T]hose ideas we talked about that seemed ‘so radical’ four years ago are now supported by a majority of Americans and Democratic candidates all the way from school board to President of the United States.” So what else did Sanders say today? Here are some notes on Sanders’ Silver State launch of “Political Revolution 2.0”.
Prologue: From feeling “Berned out”, to fueling a new progressive fire
Unlike the other candidates who’ve already announced 2020 presidential campaigns, this isn’t Bernie Sanders’ first time at our rodeo. He ran last time around, and he earned 15 pledged national convention delegates here in Nevada while Hillary Clinton earned 20. That alone should have been a huge accomplishment for the candidate who was running as the Democrats’ “anti-establishment outsider” while Trump was positioning himself as the Republicans’ version of the “anti-establishment outsider”.
But when Sanders’ campaign caught the Clinton team napping during the first round of county party conventions in April 2016, all hell began to break loose. Sanders was on track to narrow Clinton’s pledged delegate advantage to just one, but her team succeeded in restoring her five delegate advantage at the state party convention the following month thanks to Clinton’s campaign turning out slightly more state party delegates. Some Sanders delegates attempted parliamentary maneuvers to overturn the official state convention count. And when the Sanders camp failed, some of them proceeded to disrupt the convention throughout the day, ultimately succeeding in getting (what remained of) the convention kicked out of the Paris Las Vegas conference center later that night.
On one hand all this upheaval occurred over a mere five delegates, and it happened at a point when Clinton was already mathematically guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination. On the other hand, Nevada Democrats’ 2016 turmoil was a warning sign of the greater tumult to come: Tumult that would help President Donald Trump defeat Clinton in the Electoral College that November, yet tumult that would then power a grassroots progressive revolution of sorts during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. That grassroots progressive energy played a key role in Democrats’ 2018 midterm success, and it’s now fueling rival progressive 2020 contenders like fellow U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Kamala Harris (D-California).
“When we ran last time around, the political establishment and the media establishment claimed our ideas were ‘too radical’.”
– Bernie Sanders
During a sunny and warm afternoon at Morrell Park in Old Henderson, Sanders powered through his recent head injury (I can personally testify to the occasional dangers of glass shower doors) to declare, “The people of America are sick and tired of the status quo. They want change.”
But first, Sanders had a few more words to say on 2016: “When we ran last time around, the political establishment and the media establishment claimed our ideas were ‘too radical’.” Not only did he bring up his ideological and policy platform, but the campaign itself that kept going until the final caucuses and primaries in June: “It seemed that all those ideas and many more were considered ‘too radical’. Well, a funny thing happened during that 2016 campaign. We won 22 states. We received over 13 million votes. We won over 1,700 delegates to the DNC.”
Sanders then argued that his prior campaigning on his unabashedly populist progressive platform makes him “The OG of 2020”: “By the way, those ideas we talked about that seemed ‘so radical’ four years are now supported by a majority of Americans and Democratic candidates all the way from school board to President of the United States.”
“Brothers and sisters, we are going to bring justice to this country. We will not accept a situation where the younger generation will have a lower standard of living than their parents if we don’t turn this around.”
– Bernie Sanders
While Sanders had the benefit of running as “Not Hillary Clinton” in 2016, he must now contend with a much more crowded 2020 field, and a 2020 field that’s been crowded by multiple candidates vying for the progressive mantle. How will Sanders stand out this time, as candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker run on their very detailed policies, and as candidates like Kamala Harris add more excitement and vision to the 2020 field?
For Sanders, it always comes back to that populist pitch for economic justice that got him so far in 2016: “With your help, this campaign is about transforming our country and creating an economy and a country that work for the entire country, not just the 1%.” He added, “The principles of our government will be justice: economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice.”
For Sanders, “When we fight for justice, it means we will not accept 46% of new income go to the top 1% while millions of Americans work two or three jobs just to survive.” He then pivoted to the future when he exclaimed, “Brothers and sisters, we are going to bring justice to this country. We will not accept a situation where the younger generation will have a lower standard of living than their parents if we don’t turn this around.”
“This really is not about Bernie. This is about all of us.”
– Bernie Sanders
In 2016, Sanders tended not to inject too much of his personal story into his campaign. That’s one key change this time around. At Morrell Park today, Sanders contrasted his New York City upbringing with President Donald Trump’s: “I do not come from a super wealthy family like Donald Trump. […] I did not come from a family who gave me a $200,000 allowance beginning at age three. I recall my allowance being 25 cents a week.”
Sanders then used his story to illustrate why his “radical” vision for social and economic justice is more practical and more just than Trump’s use of bigotry to obfuscate the rest of Trump’s platform. According to Sanders, “I guess when you are a billionaire, you do not understand what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. My family lived paycheck to paycheck. I know where I come from, and that is something I will never forget.”
And yet, Sanders then stressed, “This really is not about Bernie. This is about all of us.” He stressed that whether progressives are most excited about protecting immigrant rights, preserving women’s reproductive health care, acting on climate change, or guaranteeing living wages for all workers, “The only way we are able to defeat [‘establishment’ opponents] is if we say, ‘Get out of the way. We are bringing justice to this country.’”
Sanders closed with this call to action: “This is all our fights. It’s the fight for justice. We’re going to reclaim America’s mantle of fighting for justice domestically and internationally.” He had a park full of supporters who appeared very ready, willing, and able to join Sanders in this fight. But with other Democrats now running on similarly bold progressive platform, we’ll have to see how Sanders can stand out further and convince more caucus-goers that he’s the one progressive fighter they want on their side.