Bernie ’16

In interviews with The Nation and TIME, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (an independent caucusing with Democrats) made it know that he is considering a presidential run (probably as a Democrat, since he acknowledges building a national third-party effort cannot occur overnight) in 2016, whether or not (or perhaps particularly if, since he trains a lot of fire at her) Hillary Clinton runs.

Now let me start by saying a Sanders run makes more sense to me that a Brian Schweitzer run. Sanders’ brand of “populism” isn’t combined with Schweitzer’s occasional culture-issue conservatism or anti-government libertarianism. He’s been around the block politically, or perhaps around several blocks.

But that’s part of the problem: he’ll be 75 on election day in 2016. And while HRC will be 69, and Republicans have nominated two septuagenarians in recent years, it’s still creates an issue that somebody running a wildly uphill campaign doesn’t need.

Then there’s the “S Word” issue. Polling shows Americans (particularly younger Americans) aren’t as terrified by the word “socialist” as they were during the Cold War. But it still has a negative connotation for 60% of Americans, which matters since Bernie is a self-identified socialist.

In his interview with John Nichols of The Nation, Sanders exhibits a rather mechanical notion of how he would put together a majority coalition:

If I run, my job is to help bring together the kind of coalition that can win—that can transform politics. We’ve got to bring together trade unionists and working families, our minority communities, environmentalists, young people, the women’s community, the gay community, seniors, veterans, the people who in fact are the vast majority of the American population.

This reminds me of nothing so much as Walter Mondale’s 1984 strategy, which involved this same effort to work through liberal constituency groups that haven’t commanded any electoral solidarity among “the troops” in a very long time.

Sanders also talks, as insurgents often do, of using a campaign to “educate” people, and that’s a worthy goal if he has the stomach to continue it long after he’s been written off and ignored by the news media.

More likely, boosters of a Sanders campaign will argue that someone like him should run to keep leftward pressure on HRC. That makes even more sense than an “educational” campaign, though it also runs the risk–particularly in a contest against someone named “Clinton”–of simply allowing her to “triangulate” against his “radical” views to buttress her appeal to swing voters in the general election.

But it’s a free country, and Bernie has earned the right to do as he wishes. I don’t buy his “move left to win” argument any more than I buy the “move right to win” claims that Ted Cruz articulated at CPAC this morning, though it is one way Democrats could distinguish themselves, for better or worse, from their embattled incumbent. More likely Sanders will stay in the Senate until his current term ends in 2019, giving most everybody hell.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.