Bernie campaign 2.0 - he's in it to win it, this time around

Bernie campaign 2.0 - he's in it to win it, this time around
© Stefani Reynolds

As we have learned over the course of American pop culture, the sequel is rarely able to match or exceed the original. The same rule usually applies for politics.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren California poll: Biden, Sanders lead Democratic field; Harris takes fifth Kamala Harris calls for new investigation into Kavanaugh allegations MORE (I-Vt.) has announced another run for the White House. His campaign promises to reflect the same clarity, boldness and aspiration that led to growing crowds of loyal supporters during his magical surprise run. But in this cycle, the Sanders movement may be described by a new title that might be viewed as an insult among his most ardent supporters: mainstream.


In 2016, Sanders built a movement — a very impressive and impactful movement — that, in many ways, will outlast most presidential runs that preceded him. But that movement that Sanders masterfully threaded together was limited in its ability to deliver a winning coalition. Movements may influence, but coalitions win. Just ask Ron Paul (R-Texas), Pat Buchanan and Howard Dean.

Sanders took some clear lessons from 2016: While he could likely replicate the big crowds and the booming populism from four years ago, he still was unlikely to earn the Democratic nomination without a significant shift in his posture vis-à-vis the big picture optics of his campaign and approach.

This past weekend, Bernie launched his 2020 campaign from the snowy steps of his alma mater in Brooklyn; a much different scene from his 2016 launch from sleepy Burlington, Vt.

Sanders has a real claim to Brooklyn as a native son of the borough, but the Sunday launch demonstrates a very different face for Sanders 2020. A more diverse, urban and colorful backdrop in Brooklyn is quite the pivot for the Sanders movement which was often criticized four years ago for being too homogenous and, frankly, too white.

Sanders has named Faiz Shakir as his campaign manager, coinciding with the announcement that a trio of Sanders top aides from his last run would not be a part of his campaign this cycle. Shakir is a highly respected and well regarded mainstream progressive.

A veteran of the Center for American Progress, the office of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPence says it's 'vital' for Congress to pass US-Mexico-Canada trade deal The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Obama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' MORE (D-Calif.) and former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info Poll: 47 percent back limits on Senate filibuster MORE (D-Nev.), Shakir walks the line between the progressive wing of the Democratic party and the Party’s establishment.

When Sanders launched last month, he led with an eye-popping, record-breaking day one fundraising total that exceeded $6 million. While Sanders was certainly well-funded in 2016, starting off with a massive fundraising total like that this second run reflects a certain muscle that is designed to get the attention of your primary opponents.

So here’s what it all means: Sanders is not playing around. He’s not running a campaign to just make a point or to win an argument this time; he’s in it to win it. And the moves he has made already reflect that clear desire to win and an intention to take his movement mainstream.

In 2016, Sanders’ campaign formed from a binary choice between the junior senator from Vermont and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders supporters cry foul over Working Families endorsement of Warren The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump heads to California Hillary Clinton: Voter suppression has led to 'crisis in democracy' in the US MORE, a well-known, well-credentialed and well-qualified, but flawed avatar of the Democratic establishment. But this time, his fiercest opponent might be a candidate that is undefeated: history. His 2020 run may follow in a long line of presidential bids we have observed in the recent past that have all petered out because of a familiar case of wrong candidate, wrong cycle.

There was a point in the early 2010s when Chris Christie was arguably the most popular Republican in the country with a Q score through the roof. The former two-term New Jersey Governor would have been a strong favorite had he chosen to vie for the Republican nomination in 2012. Christie decided to sit the race out, took on four additional years of bad press and entered a fractured 2016 Republican primary where he barely made it past a poor showing in New Hampshire before suspending his campaign.

And then a campaign that I previously worked on John Edwards’ run for the Democratic nomination in 2008 as the reigning Democratic party vice presidential nominee from 2004. In 2004, Edwards stormed the political scene with a powerful “Two Americas” message that turned him into the boy wonder of Democratic politics. In 2008, saddled with poor headlines because of some self-inflicted embarrassments and the real-life crisis of the re-occurrence of breast cancer diagnosed to his wife, Elizabeth — a disease that eventually claimed her life — Edwards never re-captured the same momentum from four years prior. Also, his failings were, in no small part, impacted by the presence of a certain former junior Senator from Illinois named Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama, Bush among those paying tribute to Cokie Roberts: 'A trailblazing figure' US-Iran next moves — Déjà vu of Obama administration mistakes? Cost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion MORE.

Both Christie and Edwards, like Sanders, had credible claims to believing they could vie for the presidency, but timing and circumstance worked against them in each instance. Many observers believe that Sanders could very well experience the same fate as these cautionary tales who found themselves on the wrong side of time and history.

Sanders now enters a wide-open 2020 Democratic field of hopefuls where, in many regards, he can claim to be the ideological godfather of several key platform ideas, including easier and cheaper access to college, an expansion of health care access and rights, a dedicated effort to combat climate change and a sustained fight to end corporate abuses on Wall Street on the back of Main Street. So now, as his ideas have gone mainstream, Sanders hopes that the 2.0 version of his campaign can follow suit.

Time will tell whether mainstream Bernie can deliver this time around but there’s no doubt the 2020 version 2.0 of the Sanders campaign will be altogether different from the original.

Joel Payne is a former Hillary for America senior aide and vice president of Corporate communications, MWWPR, which is a public relations firm.