It feels like its been months since I asked what kind of endgame the Sanders campaign wants, but it’s actually only been two weeks. At the time, I argued that Sanders should stay in so long as his campaign is positive and issue-oriented. He can’t win, but there’s no reason not to accumulate delegates in case things get really weird.
The problem with staying in, as I noted in my previous post, is you’ve got to pretend that there’s still a realistic path to victory. At least if you want to make sure your voters turn out and the donations keep coming.
This is part of went wrong, I think, in 2016.
After New York dashed the “hope and a prayer” path to victory, the rationale for continuing was, as I understand it, reduced to influencing the platform. But telling your supporters “hey, we can’t win, but we’d really like to push the platform leftward and maybe make some process changes for future contests” isn’t exactly the best way to keep them excited.
So the campaign went on, and rhetoric about the route to victory got increasingly strained – and in ways that amounted to a criticism of the process itself as somehow favoring Clinton. Sanders, as far as I know, did not often use the term “rigged” in connection with the nomination contest. At one point, aware how Trump was fanning the flames, Sanders went out of his way to reject the term – but still emphasized flaws in the process. Nonetheless, both actual Sanders supporters and ratfuckers took the ball and ran with it.
It’s starting to feel like history is repeating itself.
“It is admittedly a narrow path, but I would tell you, Seth, that there are a lot of people who are supporting me,” Sanders said. “We have a strong grass-roots movement who believe that we have got to stay in, in order to continue the fight to make the world know that we need Medicare-for-all, that we need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, that we need paid family and medical leave . . . that we must address climate change and education.”
“Campaigns are an important way to maintain that fight and raise public consciousness on those issues,” he added. “So that’s, I think, one of the arguments for going forward.”
Short of BIden leaving the race, there’s no narrow path to victory. So, can the campaign keep the donations flowing to ‘fight the good fight’ without making arguments incompatible with the goal of defeating Trump? Does the campaign gives a damn about the fact that high-ranking surrogates and staffers are trying to burn it all down.
Today, Briahna Joy Gray, the campaign’s national press secretary – who voted for Jill Stein and, while serving in that capacity, asked her followers to dox a semi-prominent center-left account – was briefly trending for a tweet she posted on Monday.
Honestly, the amount of rage-tweeting over this has been really excessive if not downright disgusting. But the tweet is a good illustration of some basic issues.
- Why attack Harris at all? She’s not in the race anymore. She even ran on a phased-in single-payer plan; she’s not exactly Joe “No Public Option for You” Lieberman.
- It was particularly tone deaf, given that Harris’s mother was not just a cancer researcher, but also died from cancer. Perhaps the national spokesperson for a major campaign might, you know, do some homework?
- From a political standpoint, there is zero upside to any of this. It’s just a dumb effort to step on Democratic messaging, grab some attention, and play to the base.
In other words, it encapsulates a number of the wrongheaded impulses of the campaign, ones which contributed to its crushing defeat by Joe Biden – whose campaign was itself a disaster until he lucked into being the last center-left candidate with a chance at winning the nomination. The thing is that Gray doesn’t, as far as I can tell, even rank among the most problematic of the paid staff or surrogates.
It looks like, whether or not Sanders intends it, the endgame of 2020 is going to look a lot like 2016. This is bad enough as it is, but at some point the progressive left needs to stop blaming everyone else and ask themselves basic questions.
We had two credible progressive candidates in this race. Warren’s surge ultimately evaporated. Sanders wound up getting crushed by Biden – a man whose campaign was in tatters until he lucked into being the last center-left candidate with a shot at victory.
In fact, Sanders defeat has been convincing enough that it may have set back the progressive movement within the Democratic party. The lesson of 2016 had been that progressives were a force; practically every viable primary contender initially moved left. If Sanders hadn’t run again, and instead wielded his endorsement as an instrument of power, we might be better positioned than we are now.
But, right now, it seems like too many progressive voices would rather blame the center-left – and the supposedly omnipotent DNC – than grapple with the possibility either that 1) the Sanders campaign blew it or 2) the political messaging that they find so compelling just doesn’t resonate with the broader primary electorate, let alone the general population.
And many of the very people who speak for the campaign have a vested interest – of one kind of another – in keeping it that way.