The Corner


What Did Sanders Achieve?

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Ariz., March 5, 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Reuters)

Chris Cillizza writes:

That Sanders’ second campaign for president ends with this sort of whimper should not in any way diminish what the Vermont democratic socialist accomplished over these last five-ish years. Sanders’ impact on the Democratic Party over that period of time is absolutely massive. He dragged the party’s establishment — at times unwillingly — far further to the ideological left on a panoply of issues, chief among them health care and climate change.
Sanders did so by understanding far earlier and with far more clarity than anyone else in the Democratic Party where its base was — and what it wanted from its future leaders.

I am not sure any of this is true. Start with what the party’s base wants. Any reasonable definition of the Democratic base is going to include most African Americans, and they have consistently shown little interest in aggregate in Sanders. Or look at Minnesota, where Sanders won in 2016 but lost more than half his vote share this time. Most Democratic voters there wanted policies similar to or more conservative than Barack Obama’s, and they voted for Joe Biden.

On health care, Biden is running on expanding Obamacare, mainly by making another run at the public option that Obama wanted in 2009. He might well be running on the same platform if Sanders hadn’t run at all. In Congress, the Medicare for All coalition has shrunk. In 2018, it had 124 House cosponsors. In 2020, after a pick-up of 40 Democratic seats, it has 118.

Other Democratic presidential candidates certainly thought that Sanders was pulling the party to the left on health care, which is no doubt part of the reason Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren endorsed versions of his plan. Helping to sink their candidacies by tying them to this toxic idea may be Sanders’s real accomplishment.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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