Time to take Sanders seriously


    Bernie Sanders is the real deal – He is Bahamas Press’ candidate for President!

    Anthony Saunders
    Anthony Saunders

    US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders
    US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders

    Matt Bai
    National Political Columnist

    After I wrote about the twisted codependency of Donald Trump and the media a few weeks back, some readers got in touch to complain that the attention paid to Trump had all but obscured the rise of Bernie Sanders. In an interview with CNN that week, Sanders himself made the same point, referring to a report that claimed network news shows had devoted 234 minutes to Trump and only 10 to his campaign. (Yes, 10 – for the entire year.)

    Judging from what’s happening right now in Iowa and New Hampshire, Sanders and his avid supporters have a legitimate point.

    Just as the Democratic primaries were the dominant story in the 2008 cycle, so has the Republican train wreck proved to be the most compelling storyline this year. But with less than three weeks to go before the voting starts, Sanders may be just as plausible a nominee as Trump.

    A New York Times/CBS News poll this week showed Sanders, who trailed Hillary Clinton among Democrats by 20 points a month ago, closing that gap to 7. But national polls are essentially meaningless; what’s more impressive are polls that have Sanders overtaking Clinton in Iowa and opening up a double-digit lead in New Hampshire.

    It’s hard to know exactly what we’re looking at here. Is Sanders making a last, spirited stand before reality crashes down on him? Or is this the year when the molecular structure of our politics — on both sides — is about to be smashed apart and scrambled?

    History would certainly suggest the former — that Sanders is only the latest in a long line of leftist insurgents, popular with college kids and urban idealists, who shake the party’s establishment without ever really threatening to topple it. The most obvious comparison is to Howard Dean, who by the end of 2003 was dominating the cycle in terms of both polling and money, and who went on to win a single primary — in his own tiny state.

    Maybe an even better analogue would be the 2000 Democratic campaign, which was the first one I covered. The entire party establishment then was lined up behind the sitting vice president, Al Gore, but by the end of 1999, the former senator Bill Bradley was still running strong. Much like Sanders, Bradley ran against the legacy of Clintonian calculation, disparaging the incrementalism of the ’90s.

    Bradley endured a withering assault from Gore and the party’s leaders, then got whacked in Iowa and edged out in New Hampshire. From that moment on, he was a dead candidate walking.

    Clinton is as flawed a candidate as Gore was, and not terribly trusted by the electorate; I’ve never assumed she was a lock for the nomination in the way a lot of my colleagues did. But in Sanders (in contrast to a younger governor like Martin O’Malley, whose campaign has foundered), she drew a chief competitor who’s 74, socialist and scolding. You could argue that no establishment candidate in the last 40 years has gotten luckier than that.

    And yet we can all get too hung up on history, and there are reasons to think that the Democratic primaries in 2016 might not be a replay of years past.

    In 2000, the antiestablishment current in public life had just begun to assert itself (among the outsiders who threatened to run that year was Trump himself), and the Internet was a crude new tool for organizing and raising money.