Sanders is unlikely to get voters to ‘feel the Bern’ in 2020

Sophia O'Neal

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Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is running for President…again.

In 2016, Senator Sanders was heralded as a progressive hero, bringing about an unprecedented wave of political engagement among voters ages 18 to 35. The Sanders campaign practically set the standard for Democrats refusing to take money from corporate PACs. His campaign also pushed the Democratic Party further left than ever before. At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the party passed its most progressive platform ever, including policies like Universal Health Care and a $15 federal minimum wage.

But there is a darker, and at times hypocritical, nature to Sanders he is unlikely to escape in 2020.

Sanders lauds himself as an outsider, holding the moral high ground over the so-called “Establishment.” Sanders has served in Congress since 1991, longer than any other candidate in the field. His extensive tenure in Congress has deeply embedded him within his dreaded “Establishment.” When he last ran for President, Sanders pinned Secretary Hillary Clinton, among others, as puppets of the “Establishment,” and didn’t stop there. In a 2016 interview with Rachel Maddow, Sanders disparagingly referred to Planned Parenthood as part of the “Establishment,” conveniently ignoring that Planned Parenthood provides lifesaving healthcare to people who cannot afford it otherwise; particularly for women at a time when access to birth control, abortion, STI testing– and just information about these topics– is constantly under attack.

Sanders has yet to release his tax returns. Remarkably, despite all the attention Donald Trump garnered in 2016 for not releasing his tax returns, Bernie Sanders skated by with little criticism. In a recent CNN town hall in Washington, D.C., Sanders offered meager excuses, chalking it up to “mechanical issues” and even blaming his wife. Sanders is among the wealthiest candidates in the Democratic primary, with his net worth is estimated at $2 million. Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has released 10 years worth of her tax returns, and is calling upon all Democratic candidates to do the same.

In January 2019, when asked by Anderson Cooper about rampant sexual harassment within his 2016 campaign, Sanders said he was “too busy running for President” to know what was happening. As the #MeToo era has transformed the way we address sexual violence, this is a pathetic and irresponsible answer from someone seeking the Presidency, particularly in the Democratic party. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) stands as one of the strongest candidates in this regard, as she has been consistently vocal about fighting sexual harassment in the military, the workplace, and the Capitol.

Sanders’ voting record is nowhere near as accomplished as his opponents. In his 30 years in Congress, he has passed 220 pieces of legislation into law; in round numbers, that’s 7 bills a year. Sen. Warren passed 45 bills and amendments in to law in just her first Senatorial term; Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has passed 38 in the same term. Sen. Gillibrand has passed 92 in her 12 years, and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has passed 125 in her 12 years. Sanders may talk a big game about creating substantial legislative change that moves the country forward, but when it comes to actually doing something about it, Sanders’s track record of getting stuff done doesn’t paint an optimistic picture.

Sanders’s policies regarding economic inequality separate class and race, a foolhardy stance that further marginalizes low income black and Latinx families. In 2016, Sanders struggled to court black and Latinx voters, and his 2020 run is likely to suffer the same fate. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Booker, and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro all have proposed economic policies that directly address the economic hardship of black and Latinx families. They each have a unique chance at mobilizing these voter bases, as they stand to be the first black woman, second black man, or first Latinx person to become President.

Sanders is quick to dismiss the power of identity politics, though, when they do not play in his favor. During his campaign rollout, Sanders said “We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age.” It’s a rather clumsy attempt by Sanders to advance himself among a field including five women, three people of color, two veterans, and the first millennial and openly gay candidate (Mayor South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg).

In a growing field of more capable candidates– all of whom are pushing policies just as, if not more, progressive than Bernie himself– Sanders is unlikely to recreate the momentum from his 2016 campaign and will be hard pressed to stay relevant this election cycle.

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