Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision a 'reach' Schumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants MORE has already won.
While his hopes of victory in the battle for the Democratic nomination are nearly extinguished, the Vermont senator has surpassed all expectations in the presidential race, creating a movement of impassioned supporters that is likely to shape politics for years to come.
“He has ignited a new powerful and enduring grassroots movement inside the Democratic Party,” said veteran Democratic strategist Robert Shrum. “He has brought a new generation of people into politics, and I think they will be around for a long time.”
Against all odds, Sanders has won 18 contests. He has inspired young and progressive voters. He has raised huge sums of money, without the help of a super-PAC. And he has forced his key issues of income inequality and campaign finance to the center of the race.
It’s an enormous achievement for someone who was dismissed as a marginal candidate when he launched his campaign a year ago.
Back then, Sanders was not much more than an asterisk in the polls. In the RealClearPolitics national average among Democrats, he was registering less than 6 percent support, and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Hill: Trump reelection would spur 'one constitutional crisis after another' Trump defends indicted GOP congressman MORE was 56 points ahead. Today, Sanders’s support in the same national average is 45.8 percent, and Clinton’s lead is less than 3 points.
“I would say that Bernie Sanders has achieved everything he wanted, except to win the nomination,” said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.
The writing is on the wall in the nomination battle, with the delegate math heavily against Sanders. The candidate acknowledged Wednesday he would be laying off “hundreds” of staff members, and his statements at a rally were generally perceived as conciliatory to Clinton.
“We are in this campaign to win, but if we do not win, we intend to win every delegate that we can, so that when we go to Philadelphia in July, we’re going to have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any political party has ever seen,” Sanders said Wednesday, according to CNN.
“And our job, whether we win or whether we do not win, is to transform not only our country but the Democratic Party — to open the doors of the Democratic Party to working people and young people and senior citizens in a way that does not exist today.”
The Independent senator’s ideological allies have also stopped predicting he will win the nomination.
“The question right now isn’t whether the movement behind Bernie Sanders is going to continue winning delegates and states in the weeks ahead. It’s whether the Democratic establishment is going to bring our party together by embracing our fight for a political revolution or tell us to sit down, shut up and fall in line,” Charles Chamberlain, the executive director of progressive group Democracy for America, said in a statement after Tuesday’s primaries.
Given his success in the race, Sanders will have significant leverage as he seeks to shape the agenda of the Democratic Party for the fall.
There will be tough negotiations ahead as the Clinton campaign seeks to find a way to win over Sanders supporters without being dragged further left than it would like for the general election.
But Clinton is widely perceived as having been nudged leftward by Sanders already.
Her moves have often earned a degree of scorn from Sanders, as when she implied she was supportive of a $15 minimum wage during an exchange at the most recent debate between the two in New York City’s Brooklyn borough earlier this month.
On green issues, Clinton has taken to emphasizing the downside of fracking in recent months, whereas she once seemed an enthusiast about the drilling technique. There has been a similar shift on free trade issues.
More broadly, Sanders’s prime points of focus — the influence of money in the political system and the question of economic inequality — have become the animating issues at the center of the Democratic race.
Even with Clinton winning the New York primary by a thumping margin earlier this month, 63 percent of Democratic voters told exit pollsters that Wall Street “hurts” rather than “helps” the U.S. economy; 26 percent said “income inequality” was the single issue that matters more than any other, second only to 38 percent who said “the economy”; and only slightly more Democrats agreed that international trade “creates more jobs” than those who said it “takes away jobs,” 43 percent to 37 percent.
It is unlikely that those figures would be the same had Sanders not entered the race — putting him in the unexpected position of party powerbroker.
When he began his run, Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats scramble to reach deal on taxes Ethics office warned officials about unnecessary trades Fed imposes tougher rules on financial trades amid scandal MORE (D-Mass.) was the undisputed darling of left-wing, grassroots Democrats, but Sanders’s standing is now at least as high.
Even those who are not bowled over by Sanders acknowledge that he has struck a chord.
“He has created a movement within the Democratic Party for people who feel they have been left out of the economic system, who feel that elites are in control and offer them no entry point into the system,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York Democratic strategist who has worked for Clinton in the past, though he is not doing so in this cycle.
“They found their voice in a 74-year-old man from Vermont — which is odd considering there is nothing original in what he is saying.”
Others said Sanders might have made a more lasting contribution, proving for future candidates that calling yourself a “democratic socialist” is no longer a political death sentence.
“Bernie Sanders has done something that hasn’t been done in recent American political history: He has legitimized the discussion of socialism,” Bannon said.
“Who would have thought socialism would have been a legitimate point of discussion in the United States?”