Krystal Ball defends Sanders amid reports that campaign is struggling

Opinion by: Krystal Ball

Politico is out with their latest hot take on the death of the Sanders campaign.

This one, titled, "Sanders is in trouble." It doesn't exactly sit easily with Sanders new fundraising numbers showing 25 million raised from 1.4 million donations with the top employers being Starbucks, Walmart, and Amazon. But I guess if people keep writing it eventually maybe it will be true.

Let's be clear about a couple things. Sanders has a large movement behind him, leads among key demographic groups and is well positioned in early states. Furthermore, he is not going to drop out guys, in spite of the absurd speculation and insistence of clueless pundits and journalists. But, it's fair to say if Sanders really wants to win, he does have to shift the current dynamics. So how exactly could he do that?

First let me say that I believe the landscape is fundamentally ripe for Sanders anti-establishment revolutionary message. There's a lot that's wrong with the comparison of Trump to Sanders but one part of that analysis is correct, they both speak attempt to speak to the existential rot at the core of modern America. The late stage capitalism, obsessive consumerism, dislocation and fundamental loss of hope that has led to spikes in suicide, addiction, and deaths of despair. Keep in mind, 70% of Americans say they're angry at the political establishment. Majorities of Americans believe our top leaders are corrupt and face no accountability for it. There are legions of voters out there waiting to back a leader who they believe is truly different.

So why then, is Sanders stuck? I believe there's a pretty simple answer actually. Sanders key differentiator, that he is an existential threat to the establishment has never really been clearly or sharply articulated by the campaign. Without that key ingredient, he's just another progressive candidate offering big plans. And yet, the emphasis of that key differentiator seems to have been neutered by self-serving calls for unity from the more establishment friendly candidates. That so called “unity” is of course only ever enforced in one direction.

Don't get me wrong, unity is a fine enough thing. Once there is a Democratic nominee, of course it will be best for left of center people to unify behind that candidate in hopes of beating the completely odious Trump. But that is then. In the current context of the democratic primary, unity is primarily weaponized by centrists to hide from voters the fact that their policies are actually way lamer and less exciting than their more progressive opponents. So think of Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharLobbying world Biden should pick the best person for the job — not the best woman House committee requests hearing with postmaster general amid mail-in voting concerns MORE repeatedly telling debate audiences that what unites the candidates is much greater than what divides them or Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegFormer Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan dies How Republicans can embrace environmentalism and win In politics, as in baseball, it ain't over till it's over MORE cutting off some discussion of differences to play school marm and tell everyone to cut it out. Everyone's afraid that a sharp debate will get Trump reelected but let's be clear here, nothing would be better for Trump than some lame ass winning the primary because no one bothered to challenge them for the sake of "unity."

It's not only centrists though who have made use of the unity trick. Warren supporters have also employed it to great effect. Unity is used to shield any differences from coming to light between Warren and Sanders that may be favorable to Sanders. We are repeatedly told that their policies are just the same! With the always ready caveat that Warren's are much more detailed. They are both outsider progressive warriors but Warren's just nicer about it. That's how you can end up with the analysis offered by one MSNBC pundit who full disclosure happens to be a friend of mine, that the only reason to support Sanders over Warren was sexism. If you take the media portrayal at face value, then why would you pick the older crabbier version of the same progressive vision and approach? Here are the distinctions that the rules of "unity" apparently allow you to make. Warren's the happy warrior and sanders is a crabby old man. Warren is pragmatic and he's ridiculous. Warren is winning and he's losing. Basically comparisons that are flattering to Warren which center mostly on "optics" or pure fantasy are fair game while actual discussion of policy discussion or theory of change differences are considered out of bounds. It's pretty bizarre.

If team Sanders wants to win, they need to stop playing along with the bogus "unity" rules that have been imposed by people who want to see them lose. Take the gloves off. Embrace angry and combative. The choice between Sanders and Warren and Biden needs to be made explicit. Only one is an existential threat to the established way of doing things. Only one has consistently put team working class ahead of team Democratic party. Lay it out. Otherwise he's just the grumpy guy whose policies paved the way for Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTrump says government to review 5M Kodak loan deal Michelle Obama supporters urge Biden to pick former first lady as running mate On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again MORE.

Sanders talks of course about a political revolution and the power of the grassroots but this vague revolutionary language can be and has been co-opted by other candidates. Warren now regularly incorporates language about her grassroots movement that sounds very Sandersesque. No, to really convince people he is the only candidate in the screw both of these corrupt parties lane, he's got to be more aggressive and more personal. Sanders should in fact take a cue from Trump's primary performance. These people should be shamed and embarrassed for the destruction they've wrought in our country. It's already clear to the media and the democratic establishment that Sanders alone occupies the "screw both of these corrupt parties" lane. The Democratic party hates Bernie SandersBernie SandersLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE and he should welcome their hatred. When I hear people complain on Twitter about how Bernie isn't even a democrat it's hilarious to me. They seem to have no awareness that not being a democrat is Bernie's greatest appeal! It's why he polls so well with independents and the working class and young voters.

There's another element of this as well, though, which is the media. The media doesn't like or understand Sanders. Their bias against his working class base and anti-establishment posture will never be overcome. He cannot hope to receive glowing coverage. It's not going to happen. But what the media can absolutely not resist is a fight. Probably the longest period of sustained attention to Sanders campaign was when he went after Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosFive takeaways from Big Tech's blowout earnings Hillicon Valley: Trump raises idea of delaying election, faces swift bipartisan pushback | Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google release earnings reports | Senators ask Justice Department to investigate TikTok, Zoom Amazon reports surge in revenue as pandemic sparks online retail boom MORE at the Washington Post. He was relentlessly attacked for daring to point out the problems with a billionaire corporatist owning one of our most influential news outlets but honestly, it was a great moment for the campaign. Possibly the only better moment was when he went on Fox News and tangled with their “fair and balanced” anchors. Sanders is great in a fight. Arguably better than any other dem in the primary. So if Sanders wants to win, he needs to be angry and combative and direct. The media will be horrified and the public will eat it up.

Don't sacrifice the revolution to satisfy some B.S. rules of civility created and enforced by people who want to preserve the status quo.