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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? Young voters set turnout record, aiding Biden win 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 to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE won a substantial three million vote victory in the popular vote but Donald Trump — 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 ObamaCan Biden vanquish Democrats' old, debilitating ghosts? How space exploration will help to address climate change Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign 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 TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE 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 HarrisWomen set to take key roles in Biden administration Trump campaign appeals dismissal of Pennsylvania election challenge Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win 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 WarrenDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? Alito to far-right litigants: The buffet is open 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.