Bernie Sanders must unite Democrats in order to win

Bernie Sanders must unite Democrats in order to win
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If Bernie SandersBernie SandersJoe Biden wins New Jersey primary Biden wins Delaware primary Military madness in the age of COVID-19 MORE has any hope of unseating President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Tucker Carlson ratchets up criticism of Duckworth, calls her a 'coward' Trump on Confederate flag: 'It's freedom of speech' MORE, he must begin by uniting the Democrats. That means acting like he wants to be one. Sanders can start by not demagoguing other candidates and stop forcing vulnerable Democrats into untenable policy positions. We cannot afford to take voters for granted. It is impossible to unify a divided party when the front runner constantly accuses those who do not agree with everything he says as somehow “not being a real Democrat.” That is not just a bad campaign strategy but a recipe for another disastrous election.

Democrats have a big tent party that exists on a spectrum. On one end are those like Conor Lamb, a pragmatic moderate who represents a suburban district outside of Pittsburgh. On the other end are those like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, an idealistic progressive who represents the Bronx. The fact that both elected members of Congress can represent such different constituencies as Democrats demonstrates how big of a tent the party is.

In the 2018 midterm elections, numerous Democrats handily won seats in districts previously won by Trump. If Sanders has any hope of passing his legislative agenda, he needs the support of not just moderate Democrats but also independents. To do so, he must broaden his coalition, temper his rhetoric, and lose his holier than thou attitude. Gaining that support requires him to open himself up to compromise. That may be a bad word in the Sanders world, however, it is a political necessity in the real world.


Sanders fails to acknowledge that there is room for disagreement within the party. He is simply wrong. Like Sanders, most Democrats agree that income inequality poses a threat to our economic system. Like Sanders, most Democrats agree that our government has issues that stack all odds against working people across the nation. Like Sanders, most Democrats believe that access to health care is a right that all Americans should be promised by birth. But unlike Sanders, most Democrats understand that we cannot allow the perfect be the enemy of the good. It does not work.

Sanders is running not just to unite Democrats but to bring Americans together. He cannot do that by being as divisive as Trump. This is not a student council election. It is an election to unseat the most loathsome president in recent history. Seeking the White House is about coalition building instead of purity tests. Sanders must now accept his role in the party. He is no longer an outsider who can take potshots at Democrats. He is a candidate ripping the party to shreds and hurting our odds of taking back the White House and Senate. This is shameful at the cost of voters.

An unshackled Trump would be nightmarish for Democrats, and it should keep us awake at night this campaign season. Sanders may not suffer if Trump is reelected, but his supporters certainly will. A second term for Trump means the inability to pass Medicare for All and possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It means more Twitter rampages and attacks on the press, the complete destruction of institutional norms, and possibly another conservative on the Supreme Court. If that happens, we can say goodbye to the right of women to choose and to the efforts to overturn Citizens United. We would continue to lose our liberties and civil rights.

To accomplish any of his major policy prescriptions, Sanders is going to need the support of his fellow Democrats. If he wants to lead the party, then he should act like he wants to be a member. As we learned under President Obama, our system is built for incremental change instead of overnight revolutions. For all my criticisms of the Sanders campaign, I do want to root for him. I want to believe that a candidate can produce the type of transformational change that Sanders often speaks of. I want to believe that his election would pave the way for a system that levels the playing field and ensures equality for all Americans in this great nation. I do want to feel the bern but, unfortunately, I have already been burned.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founding partner of Northern Starr Strategies. He served with the Democratic presidential campaigns for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Delaney. Follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.