The Democratic Establishment Is Trying to Crush Bernie Sanders, But It Hasn’t Stopped Him

While the Democratic Party’s corporate wing helped Biden gain on Super Tuesday, Sanders’ left-wing vision is still popular—and can still win.

Miles Kampf-Lassin March 4, 2020

Sanders' political revolution took a hit—but there's a long road left to the nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It was nev­er going to be easy. Trans­form­ing Amer­i­can pol­i­tics to loosen the grip of cor­po­rate pow­er and curb the influ­ence of the super-rich has always rep­re­sent­ed a gar­gan­tu­an task — one unlike­ly to be accom­plished through a sin­gle elec­tion cycle. Monday’s cen­trist endorse­ment extrav­a­gan­za, which saw the cen­ter of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty throw its col­lec­tive weight behind the can­di­da­cy of Joe Biden, was a reminder of just how ardu­ous the road ahead endures for America’s nascent left-wing movement.

The race is now unmistakably one between Biden’s view of a world unchanged and Sanders’ vision for a future where human dignity and economic rights supplant corporate power.

The results from Super Tues­day can’t be sug­ar-coat­ed: Biden had a very good night, and cur­rent­ly holds 45 more del­e­gates than Bernie Sanders. After the chore­o­graphed mod­er­ate con­sol­i­da­tion, which saw Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg drop out to back Biden, fol­lowed by Beto O’Rourke’s endorse­ment of the last cen­trist stand­ing, the dynam­ics of the race were upend­ed. Where­as Sanders had been expect­ed to ben­e­fit from sticky sup­port, with oth­er can­di­dates split­ting the cen­trist vote, Biden instead was able to pull vot­ers from these oth­er camps to put togeth­er sur­prise wins in states like Texas and Min­neso­ta. Sanders’ per­for­mance wasn’t helped by low­er than expect­ed youth turnout. And after Mike Bloomberg’s Wednes­day deci­sion to drop out to endorse Biden, we should expect the mid­dle lane to con­dense even more.

Still, Biden’s suc­cess shouldn’t be over­stat­ed. While the media has rushed to call him the come­back kid,” the fact remains that the establishment’s choice was always going to have an upper hand in these elec­tions — Biden’s cam­paign sim­ply became the de fac­to vehi­cle for the party’s cor­po­rate wing after his blowout win in South Car­oli­na on Saturday.

Even with every­thing falling in place for Biden, Sanders was still able to score a major vic­to­ry in Cal­i­for­nia, the most del­e­gate-rich state in the nation and the crown jew­el of Super Tues­day. Sanders won enough del­e­gates in states across the coun­try to keep him com­pet­i­tive in a still very close race, illus­trat­ing the strength of the demo­c­ra­t­ic socialist’s insur­gent cam­paign. With votes from Cal­i­for­nia still com­ing in, Sanders could close the del­e­gate gap even more. And he’s done it with­out tak­ing mon­ey from bil­lion­aires while break­ing fundrais­ing records through grass­roots dona­tions and turn­ing out lev­els of vol­un­teers that put Biden’s cam­paign to shame.

At his Tues­day night speech, Sanders took on a pos­i­tive tone. Tonight I tell you with absolute con­fi­dence: We are going to win the Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­na­tion.” Sanders said, con­tin­u­ing, We are going to defeat Trump because we are putting togeth­er an unprece­dent­ed, grass­roots, mul­ti-gen­er­a­tional, mul­tira­cial move­ment. It is a move­ment which speaks to the work­ing fam­i­lies of this country.”

In the face of the mod­er­ate con­sol­i­da­tion, Sanders has posi­tioned him­self the way he has through­out his time in pol­i­tics, as an out­sider tak­ing on the estab­lish­ment. In response to the flood of Biden endorse­ments on Mon­day, Sanders told reporters, We are tak­ing on the estab­lish­ment. And I ful­ly under­stand, no great sur­prise to me, that estab­lish­ment politi­cians are not going to endorse us.”

Still, the speed of the con­ver­gence behind Biden was enough to jolt some in the Sanders camp, with cam­paign man­ag­er Faiz Shakir telling the New York Times, It’s one thing to know it’s going to hap­pen, and it’s anoth­er thing to watch it hap­pen so very quick­ly.” As a result of the cen­trist love fest, the Biden cam­paign ben­e­fit­ted from a stream of pos­i­tive news cov­er­age on Tues­day morn­ing, includ­ing front-page spreads in the Wash­ing­ton Post, Los Ange­les Times and Dal­las Morn­ing News. Politi­co even hailed Biden’s astound­ing comeback.”

The media was nev­er going to be a neu­tral arbiter in this race. We’ve seen time and again that cor­po­rate out­lets, includ­ing lib­er­al” MSNBC, rou­tine­ly ignore or crit­i­cize Sanders dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly to oth­er can­di­dates. By focus­ing on shape­less ques­tions of elec­tabil­i­ty,” pun­dits have found a way to por­tray Sanders as a threat to Demo­c­ra­t­ic vic­to­ry in 2020, even as his plat­form remains incred­i­bly pop­u­lar and he con­tin­ues to rack up wins, buoyed by a fer­vent base of supporters.

But while com­men­ta­tors and Demo­c­ra­t­ic oper­a­tives warn that Sanders’ demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist label and redis­trib­u­tive agen­da make him a unique­ly vul­ner­a­ble can­di­date, vot­ers just don’t seem to mind. In fact, he is the most trust­ed on issues most impor­tant to Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers, from health­care to the econ­o­my. Not only is he the most broad­ly pop­u­lar per­son in the race, as Peter Beinart writes at the Atlantic, Sanders may be the least polar­iz­ing can­di­date in the pres­i­den­tial field.” And it’s not just pro­gres­sive and lib­er­al vot­ers that like Sanders — self-described mod­er­ate or con­ser­v­a­tive Democ­rats also give him high marks.

But what about beat­ing Trump? Even if Sanders and his pro­gram are pop­u­lar, the elec­tabil­i­ty argu­ment goes, he just can’t defeat the incum­bent Repub­li­can. On this issue too, the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom of the anti-Bernie par­ti­sans is just plan wrong. As the New York Times reports, the evi­dence we have now shows that Sanders would win both the pop­u­lar vote and an Elec­toral Col­lege vic­to­ry over Trump. And in the all-impor­tant states of Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and Penn­syl­va­nia, Sanders out­per­forms Trump.

So, if Sanders is pop­u­lar and would like­ly beat Trump, the ques­tion remains why the estab­lish­ment would pull out all the stops to blunt his momen­tum. It’s not just the Biden endorse­ments. Reports indi­cate that par­ty offi­cials who would vote as superdel­e­gates on a sec­ond bal­lot at the Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­ven­tion are open­ly float­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of deny­ing Sanders the nom­i­na­tion even if he ends the race with the most votes and the most del­e­gates, a prospect that led for­mer Oba­ma cam­paign man­ag­er David Plouffe to posit, I’m not sure the par­ty recov­ers from that for decades.”

Aban­don­ing all pre­tens­es of rep­re­sent­ing the demo­c­ra­t­ic will of the peo­ple may appear a dras­tic move, but to fath­om it we must under­stand what’s at stake for the polit­i­cal establishment.

On Mon­day, after Buttigieg and Klobuchar announced their sup­port for Biden, stocks for top U.S. health insur­ers includ­ing Humana, Unit­ed­Health Group, Cen­tene Corp. and Anthem rose to their high­est lev­el in five months. And fol­low­ing Biden’s per­for­mance on Tues­day, they shot up again, as did the Dow Jones Indus­tri­al Average.

Pre­vi­ous­ly, stocks for the health­care indus­try had tum­bled fol­low­ing Sanders’ pri­ma­ry vic­to­ries. Why? Because Medicare for All, the cor­ner­stone of his cam­paign, would decom­mod­i­fy health­care in the Unit­ed States, remov­ing the prof­it motive by pro­vid­ing care uni­ver­sal­ly, and free of charge. As the Super Tues­day results prove yet again, this plan is incred­i­bly pop­u­lar — except among insur­ance exec­u­tives who stand to lose their rich­es as a result of its implementation.

It’s not just health­care. Fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies would like­ly face mas­sive to hits their bot­tom line as a result of Sanders’ Green New Deal plan to com­bat cli­mate change. The pri­vate prison indus­try would almost cer­tain­ly lose out in Sanders’ plan to stem mass incar­cer­a­tion and reform the crim­i­nal jus­tice and immi­gra­tion sys­tems. Weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers and oth­er mil­i­tary con­trac­tors would like­ly see sales decline as a result of pulling out of for­ev­er wars, as Sanders promis­es. And of course, the super-rich, who hold colos­sal pow­er over our econ­o­my and our pol­i­tics, would be dis­pos­sessed of this author­i­ty. In short, the threat of a Sanders pres­i­den­cy to both the polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic estab­lish­ment is very real. 

Biden, on the oth­er hand, has famous­ly promised that under his pres­i­den­cy, things will basi­cal­ly stay the same. At a Man­hat­tan fundrais­er in June 2019, Biden assured the wealthy donors in atten­dance that if he becomes pres­i­dent, Nobody has to be pun­ished. No one’s stan­dard of liv­ing will change, noth­ing would fun­da­men­tal­ly change.”

This is what a Biden pres­i­den­cy por­tends: noth­ing chang­ing for the 162 bil­lion­aires who own the same amount of wealth as half of human­i­ty. But the results from Tues­day don’t change the fact that Biden remains a weak and vul­ner­a­ble can­di­date — just look at his dis­mal show­ing in Iowa. On the issues of Social Secu­ri­ty, Medicare and the Iraq War espe­cial­ly, Biden has con­sis­tent­ly been out of step with the base of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. And now, with the field win­nowed, Sanders has the oppor­tu­ni­ty in the upcom­ing debates and on the cam­paign trail to train his atten­tion on mak­ing the con­trast between him and the for­mer vice pres­i­dent as clear as day.

With Super Tues­day in the rearview, the race is now unmis­tak­ably one between Biden’s view of a world unchanged and Sanders’ vision for a future where human dig­ni­ty and eco­nom­ic rights sup­plant cor­po­rate pow­er. The estab­lish­ment has made clear which side it’s cho­sen. With over 30 states still yet to vote, Sanders has made cer­tain he plans to fight as hard as ever. His polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion may have seen a set­back, but it’s far from derailed. It wasn’t ever going to be easy. Chang­ing the world nev­er is. 

Dis­clo­sure: The author of this piece has vol­un­teered for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 cam­paign. Views expressed are those of the writer. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not sup­port or oppose any can­di­date for pub­lic office.

Miles Kampf-Lassin, a grad­u­ate of New York Uni­ver­si­ty’s Gal­latin School in Delib­er­a­tive Democ­ra­cy and Glob­al­iza­tion, is a Web Edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MilesKLassin

Limited Time: