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Why Bernie Sanders Lost


If there is a moment that epitomizes why Bernie Sanders lost in 2020, it actually took place five years earlier. Sanders, about to give a speech at a rally in Seattle, was interrupted by several Black Lives Matter protesters, including Marissa Johnson, who took over the microphone as Sanders stood nearby uncomfortably, not knowing what to do. “Bernie says that he is about the people, about grass roots movement,” she says once Sanders steps aside. “The biggest grassroots movement in this country right now is the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Sanders would eventually leave without giving his speech – and there is a direct line from that 2015 event to, say, this one in 2020: “Crowd cheers as Jennifer EppsAddison says: ‘racism and capitalism are two sides of the same coin.’” As Jesse Singal notes: “YES this is the right message when you are down big and facing a desperate last gasp in that bastion of elite leftism, Michigan.” And meanwhile, where were those Michigan working class voters that propelled Sanders so far last time? They were at the Joe Biden rallies.

Sanders has spent his entire career advocating for a class-based perspective on American politics, one that argues against the elites and powerful corporations and, in his view, in defense of the interests of the working and middle class voters. Ever since he shifted during the 2016 election to accommodate the perspective of a rising woke racial tide, it’s been as ill-fitting as most of his suits. There is a big gap between the interests and priorities of the union hall voter and the interests of supporters of the squad – who failed utterly to deliver for Bernie, particularly Rashida Tlaib, who may have been the worst surrogate of the cycle.

Who benefits? A Biden campaign that seized back hold of working class and rural voters who fled Sanders in droves. For Biden, there’s a Cosmo Kramer aspect to this – just falling backwards into money. Most pundits will probably explain this away as just being an indication of how deeply unpopular Hillary Clinton was (and is), but that ignores the definite shift in Sanders’ priorities and representation on the stump. Instead of being a candidate who didn’t see people based on color, who sees racial politics as what the elites use to divide the working class, he was caught in a maelstrom of wokeness that limited his appeal.

Perhaps on some level Sanders was always more interested in being an influencer than a president. He was never willing to do what it takes to win a Democratic Primary – to really take on the obvious attempts of the party establishment to block him, the way Donald Trump did constantly in 2016. In the Fox News townhall Monday, Sanders prefaced his policy critiques of Biden with several compliments. As much as the more extreme corners of his support are willing to call for the guillotine, Sanders was never willing to pick up the shiv. He could have been president – maybe now he can have a podcast.

The postscript for Democrats in 2020: they will now have to convince the TikTok voter to do what they have loathed all along, and vote for Joe Biden.

Biden is consistently polling on average under 20 percent with voters ages 18-29 and I don’t know if anyone truly understands what that might mean for the future of the Democratic Party. A major theme in network coverage rn is blaming young voters for not turning out to expand Sanders’ coalition. Missing from that analysis is the point that young voters seeing the establishment coalesce around Biden is another reason they think voting doesn’t matter.

The only state where Democrats had a higher under-30 turnout than in 2016 was Iowa. You’d think a smart Republican could come along and exploit this opportunity – you’d think. But for now, this is a battle between and among older voters about whether they want to stick with a Baby Boomer or go back to the Silent Generation for their leadership. I can’t wait to see what the corporate media does to try and make that cool.

The media never really understood why Sanders appealed to young people before, with an incorruptible grandfatherly authenticity they found endearing and inspiring. In the end, Sanders was corrupted by the same people who cheered for him the most – the increasingly woke youngsters whose priorities could no longer mesh with the working class voters who made him a threat in the first place. We always hurt the ones we love.