Is Bernie Sanders Done For?

Even if you think the world of the man, you have to admit he seems to have the anti-Midas touch these days.

First, there was his own campaign. Galvanizing to progressive activists and young voters. Inspiring to millions. Passionate, driven, wildly successful in terms of fundraising. Still couldn’t seal the deal in the Democratic primary.

Then there was his ally Heath Mello, the anti-choice contender in the Omaha, Nebraska mayoral race. He was right on economics, we were told. We have to lead with economics, not those pesky “identity politics”! It wasn’t enough.

Then there was Rob Quist, the folk singer who embraced the man’s vision. Some thought Quist’s progressive populism would be enough to do the job. Of course, Quist did “do the job”…in the pro-wrestling sense of the term, getting pinned by Republican Greg “The Hammer” Gianforte in the special election to fill the seat once held by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Then there was Tom Perriello, the Virginia gubernatorial aspirant who shared the man’s views on energy and economics. Perriello seemed to be such a strong candidate that fossil-fuel industry executives became nervous at the prospect of him becoming the next leader of the Old Dominion. They were presumably relieved when Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, dominated him in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Is it over for Bernie Sanders and his movement?

A few weeks ago, I noted:

Yes, Bill Maher has called upon Senator Sanders to do it again like Steely Dan three years from now, but Maher must know that Sanders would likely run into the same demographic problems he ran into the last time around.

It seems even more unlikely now that Sanders will consider going back into the Presidential field. That may be a good thing.

Perhaps it’s time for Sanders’s strongest supporters to consider the idea that Sanders’s role is to be the Barry Goldwater of the left. Goldwater could not have, under any circumstances, become the President of the United States; however, his 1964 campaign cleared a path for a more charismatic and politically skilled right-winger to become Commander-in-Chief in 1980. History may well repeat on the other side of the aisle.

One day, a solidly progressive Presidential candidate will run for and win the Democratic nomination. He or she will be so skilled, so rhetorically powerful, so effective in making the case for progressive policy, that questions about whether that candidate is “too far left to win” will rarely be asked in the mainstream press. He or she will be able to attract support from all factions of the Democratic Party. He or she will be able to capture the imagination of independents, maybe even a Republican here or there. He or she will go on to win the Presidency. That candidate will, unquestionably, stand on Sanders’s shoulders, and will deserve criticism if that candidate fails to give Sanders proper respect for constructing the bridge upon which he or she drove to victory.

For now, progressives can respect Sanders’s 2016 achievement while also acknowledging that he may not be the best individual to continue carrying the torch for progressive principles. This is not to say that Sanders necessarily needs to leave the political stage, only that someone else will have to lead the “political revolution” he started. Hopefully, Sanders won’t be denied his rightful place in history as the man who pushed hard against political barriers, even if he couldn’t ultimately surmount them.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.