After Bernie Sanders announced that he will make another run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, I spent some time watching the news coverage on MSNBC and CNN. I also skimmed through more than a dozen news articles at major newspapers. The impression I got, although anecdotal, is that there is a common wisdom on the center-left that Sanders is a spent force in American politics.
I’ve seen various narratives that make this point in different ways. Some say simply that he’s too old. Others say his own success in moving the party to the left will be his undoing, as he no longer offers a unique or distinct choice. Still others point to the hard feelings his 2016 campaign created, or argue that we’ve moved into a new political environment where women and/or minorities will have a natural advantage over white men.
Some, or even most, of these predictions may be accurate. But I think they’re too dismissive of the Vermont senator’s chances of winning the nomination. The day of his formal announcement, Sanders raised $5.9 million from his preexisting donor base, mostly in small donations that can be recurring every month. This dwarfs what any of the other candidates raised when they announced.
Money isn’t everything, but with so many candidates in the running it will be difficult for others to financially compete with Sanders. While others work to build up a loyal army of supporters who will do the grunt work on the campaign trail, Sanders will be able to focus on other tasks. He’s also going to bring a certain floor of support to every contest, and with so many candidates dividing up votes, that floor could be good for at least second place and a share of the delegates in many states.
Another strength people should consider is Sanders’s decision to hire Faiz Shakir as his campaign manager. Based on my limited experiences with Shakir, he should not be underestimated. I don’t know if his many skills in other areas will readily transfer to running a presidential campaign, but I would not bet against him. I expect he will do an excellent job.
Winning the nomination is a battle for delegates, not a popularity contest. I think it is very unlikely that Sanders will win many contests outright, at least initially, but I think he’s in a very strong position to bag delegates even when losing. Most candidates will come away completely empty-handed. He’ll have all the money he needs to stay in as long as he wants, so he could emerge from the early stages of the primaries in second place with delegates, first place in cash, and as the main alternative still standing against the frontrunner.
That might get him no further than he advanced in 2016, but it’s still a more formidable place than the center-left pundits are willing to predict.