Does Bernie Sanders' Race for the Democratic Nomination Matter?
As Bridget Johnson reports on these pages, and as the left-wing Huffington Post told its readers on Thursday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist senator from Vermont, is going to announce his entry into Democratic primaries to challenge Hillary Clinton.
The first response of many people will be to scoff. Everyone knows, even if Senator Sanders himself has delusions, that he will never get enough votes in a general election to become president, even if he somehow managed to win the nomination. Of course, the latter is not likely to occur. No matter how many small donors contribute to his campaign chest, it will never amount to anything close to the huge war chest that Hillary Clinton is amassing.
So why does his campaign even matter? Huff Po makes this point:
The Vermont senator's entry into the race will provide a platform for Democrats to criticize Clinton from the left. It will not only do this, but could force Hillary to move further left in her campaign pronouncements.
If she does not, she will be in danger of losing a large portion of her base. In a close swing state, Clinton cannot afford to alienate those who believe she is too close to the banks and Wall Street.
Sanders has been arguing publicly that Hillary does not know why she is running and that she stands for nothing except her desire to be president and to have political power. As he put it:
Why don’t you tell me what Hillary Clinton is campaigning on? Do you know? You don’t know and I don’t know and the American people don’t know.
When he begins his campaign, the senator is certain to remind people that her husband was a force in the then-existing Democratic Leadership Council, which sought to keep the Democratic Party in the center and to function as an opposition to those Democrats further to the Left. He could also remind voters that Bill Clinton supported welfare reform and got his centrist programs through Congress only by gaining the votes of Republicans. He will undoubtedly try to argue that Hillary will be Clinton II, and that this is proved by the heavy funding she is receiving from corporate America.
What if the Republican candidate chooses to run by advocating new and innovative policies that respond to the growing plight of the middle class, and on measures that will enable the United States to once again become a true opportunity society? An opportunistic lurch to either the left or the center by Hillary Clinton will strengthen the chances of a Republican victory in the general election.
Hillary Clinton is very smart, and should not be underestimated. She will undoubtedly at first ignore Sanders, attempting to depict him as a marginal candidate whose campaign will only help Republicans. If Sanders manages to gain support in certain key states where voters do not trust Hillary to do anything that will help them, she will have to reevaluate and address the concerns he raises and the stands he takes that prove to be popular.
Sanders' candidacy might be a harbinger of Democrats who will be emboldened to question Hillary’s inevitability. After her e-mail deleting, and after the revelations in Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash on the unsavory ways the Clintons amassed $150M over the past ten years, other challengers may well step forward. So run, Bernie, run! We will have a more interesting campaign, as well as a fight over the future direction of America. I’m certain that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is looking very closely at Sanders’ announcement and rethinking her own options. Maybe Joe Biden is, too. Then there is Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and, God forbid, John Kerry, who might think he is entitled to another go at it. Let the race begin!