Bernie Sanders, who announced Tuesday that yes, he is running for president whether you want him to or not, narrowly lost the Nevada caucuses to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Not long after, everyone involved seemed to start yelling at each other on and off the internet, causing most sensible people to a) look away, and b) wish Nevada had a primary run by election officials instead of a stupid caucus process and the ensuing omnishambles that tend to be party state conventions.
But nearly four years later, well, here we are, gearing up in Nevada for another dumb caucus next year.
Nevada has held two competitive caucuses since Harry Reid made us an early state. In 2008, Nevada’s first foray into early state “prominence,” the Culinary union and the teachers’ unions got all mad at each other. Presumably they’re over it now. In any case, it was an ice cream social compared to the kerfuffle between the Clinton and Sanders supporters in 2016. Hopefully we’ll all be spared that sort of thing this time, as all the Democrats, no matter who they support, come together in peace, mindful that defeating Trump is far more important than demonizing other Democrats.
But back to Sanders. To expand a little on what I said in the Daily Current newsletter (which you should subscribe to if you don’t already), when Bernie ran in 2016, a significant number of Democratic voters were already embracing a more dynamic social and economic justice agenda, and rejecting the mealy-mouthed Republican-lite policies preferred by conventional Democratic politicians and their donors for the last several decades.
A lot of people hoped Sanders would decide against running this time (disclosure: I hadn’t given it a mountain of thought, but now that he’s announced, I guess I realize I might be one of those people, even though I caucused for him in 2016).
Sanders deserves a heaping helping of credit for being a catalyst and articulating an outlook people were eager to embrace in 2016. Perhaps more than any other Democrat running for president this time, Sanders has earned his position as a prominent contender. The 2020 Democratic field is already by far the most diverse and progressive in U.S. history. Sanders is a good addition to it, and Nevada Democrats should welcome him to the campaign trail, no matter who they support.
But here’s the thing. All the announced Democrats are embracing (some measure of) Medicare for All and (some measure of) climate change action and (some measure of) tackling income inequality not because Sanders brought those issues to the forefront, but because Democratic voters, especially young ones who have come of age in a 21st century full of war, economic chaos, and Trump, are demanding systemic change. Such change doesn’t hinge on Sanders. It never did.