Bernie Sanders should not run for president. In fact, we beg him not to.
That is an unfavorable opinion, especially among most Vermonters and progressives who support the platform that has come to define him. But at this point, there are more things about another Sanders run at the White House that concern us than excite us.
In this space, we have repeatedly hit the senator on where his loyalties lay: Vermont or a bigger calling? We have asked him to make a choice, which he would argue was his recent re-election to Congress. But in his previous run for the presidency, Sanders, an independent who ran for the White House as a Democrat, missed dozens of votes that likely would have helped Vermonters. And, while he handily defeated his challenger, can Vermonters point to Sanders’ record and say definitively, “This is what he’s done for us?”
While he makes regular visits “home,” you are more likely to catch Sanders on Colbert, CNN or MSNBC than you are to see him talking to reporters here in Vermont. Evidently, microphones here don’t extend far enough.
But that’s not our greatest concern. We fear a Sanders run risks dividing the well-fractured Democratic Party, and could lead to another split in the 2020 presidential vote. There is too much at stake to take that gamble. If we are going to maintain a two-party system, the mandate needs to be a clear one. There is strength in numbers, and if anything has been shown in recent years, it is that unless tallies are overwhelming, there can always be questions or challenges raised over what “vote totals” really mean: popular vote vs. Electoral College results.
For us, this comes down to principle over ego. It is one thing to start a revolution, but at a certain point you need to know when to step out of the way and let others carry the water for you.
Sanders is a self-described socialist and a New Deal-era American progressive, who is pro-labor and emphasizes reversing economic inequality. He has developed a noteworthy following.
And, there have been progressive candidates, many of whom have been running under Sanders’ “revolution” banner (and with his endorsement) who are spreading the tenets of Sanders’ decades-old agenda: Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure; reversing climate change; creating worker co-ops; growing the trade-union movement; raising the minimum wage; pay equity for women workers; trade policies that benefit American workers; making college affordable for all; taking on Wall Street; health care as a human right; protecting the most vulnerable Americans; and tax reform.
As a platform, it is massive. As a candidate, Sanders is exhausting.
All signs point to another run, even with accusations this week that Sanders’ campaign staff, during the 2016 run, engaged in sexist remarks, as well as claims of poor treatment and lower pay for women.
According to the New York Times this week, “Now, as the Vermont senator tries to build support for a second run at the White House, his perceived failure to address this issue has damaged his progressive bona fides, delegates and nearly a dozen former state and national staff members said in interviews over the last month.
“And it has raised questions among them about whether he can adequately fight for the interests of women, who have increasingly defined the Democratic Party in the Trump era, if he runs again for the presidential nomination in 2020,” a Times article notes.
In an interview Wednesday night on CNN, Sanders said he was proud of his 2016 campaign. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right, in terms of human resources,” he said. “I certainly apologize to any woman who felt she was not treated appropriately, and of course, if I run we will do better the next time.”
Asked by Anderson Cooper if he knew about the staff complaints, he said, “I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.” That response alone is inexcusable and insulting.
In recent weeks, a Facebook group for Sanders campaign alumni has become a sounding board for complaints about harassment, lewd comments and gender discrimination. Politico first reported on the claims.
And while none of the staff accusations have been levied against Sanders himself, his personality is abrasive. He is known to be difficult to work with. The 77-year-old can be bombastic and prickly. He can be dismissive and rude in his arrogance. You are either with Bernie Sanders or you are not.
That no-nonsense approach and his politics are endearing to many. But it is as extreme, on the other end of the spectrum in its policy elbow-throwing and idealism, as what we face today from the right in their standard bearer, Donald Trump.
Taken together — ego, electoral math, a tired message and a prickly media darling — Sanders is convincing himself that he’s the person who can win the White House in 2020. We are not convinced he should.