How Sanders could save the Democratic Party in 2018
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight MORE (I-Vt.) is the conscience of the Democratic Party at a moment in history when it is crucial that Democrats stand for profiles in courage as a historically crucial midterm election effectively begins this week with the return of Congress from recess.

It is within the realm of possibility that Sanders saves the Democratic Party from a fate that could otherwise resemble the presidential election of 2016, when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE won a substantial three million vote victory in the popular vote but Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE — who often bears false witness about the 2016 results — won an electoral college victory by a tiny margin in a handful of states.

Democrats stand on the brink of being on the winning side of an anti-Trump wave election in the 2018 midterm elections. But it is possible for Democrats to win a wave election in the popular vote in 2018 without winning enough seats to gain control of the House of Representatives or the Senate, which would perpetuate one-party control in Washington after the midterm votes are counted.

My view is that, today, Democrats have a 50-50 chance of regaining control of the House but only a very long-shot chance of regaining control of the Senate, in part because of the sheer number of Democratic senators running for re-election in 2018 and in part because of structural weaknesses in the national organization of the Democratic Party.


Let's be clear about one thing: The Democratic National Committee has become a political joke, ineffective at raising money and functionally useless on key issues such as voter registration and party building. By contrast, the Sanders-affiliated group Our Revolution has injected vitality and spirit into the progressive movement.

Let's be clear about another matter, as well: While former president Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE has been making substantial money from paid speeches to Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald and other groups, and while his former aides have begun opining about which candidate they favor for president in 2020, Obama has done virtually nothing to lift or even awaken the sleep-walking Democratic National Committee or to help Democrats win back control of the House or Senate in 2018.

By contrast, it is the Democratic and progressive base that has forcefully led the opposition to President Trump outside of Washington, and it is Sanders who continues to galvanize grassroots supporters and advance  organization and activism on behalf of a solid progressive agenda that is invaluable for Democrats.

Recently I wrote on this page that when Sanders formally introduces his plan to create a Medicare-for-all health care system, he will ignite a national firestorm of support for his proposal, which now includes other Democratic senators such as Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal California Dems offer preview of party's 2020 agenda Some Dems sizzle, others see their stock fall on road to 2020 MORE (D-Calif.), alongside the continuing firestorm of opposition to the widely despised healthcare proposals from President Trump and GOP leaders in Congress.

It should be noted — and this is important — that Sanders has said support for single-payer healthcare should not be a litmus test for Democrats running in 2018. At the same time he has performed an invaluable service by taking his case to purple and red states such as West Virginia.

Let me say that I vehemently disagree with the whispering campaign directed against Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal MORE (D-Mass.), a leading and invaluable progressive senator, from certain corporatist elements within the Democratic Party who speak for very few Democrats outside the lobbyist community.

It is healthy to see so many Democrats consider running for president in 2020, but there is some danger that they divert fundraising and attention from the urgently important mission of regaining control of Congress in 2018.

What makes Sanders so important and extraordinary and unique is that he actually ran for president in 2016, inspired a massive wave of small donations and citizen activism, and is now turning this machine of progressive idealism and engagement into effective support that will boost Democrats in the midterms.

If only President Obama would show the engagement, enthusiasm and passion that Sanders and his supporters show! Obama could raise substantial money for Democrats, and promote voter registration and party-building. If only the DNC would show the activism and enthusiasm of "our revolution," rather than act like a halfway house for insiders and consultants.

What Sanders and his supporters have, and many Democratic insiders and large donors lack, is the passion and commitment of knowing that they speak for hugely important issues at a dangerous moment for American politics.

Every Democratic donor, large and small, should aggressively donate to candidates for the House and Senate running in 2018.

Every anti-Trump voter who stayed home in 2016 should be highly motivated to vote for Democrats in 2018.

It would be a tragedy and travesty if Democrats win a national popular vote majority of three or five million votes over Republicans in 2018, but fail to gain control of the House and Senate.

Bernie Sanders is the antidote to the complacency and inaction that characterizes Obama and the DNC.  He is motivated by a passion for progressivism and the urgency of knowing he is fighting for a great cause at a crucial moment in history.

Sanders is one of the most important players in the urgent campaign to save the Democratic Party from an outcome that resembles 2016 in which a popular-vote majority did not stop America from electing the most dangerous and extreme president in American history.

Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), then-chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. in international financial law from the London School of Economics.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.