Opinion: Democrats must unite behind Sanders if they want power back

If the Vermont socialist earns the nomination, Democrats need to support him if they want to win in November.


Shivansh Ahuja

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, speaks at the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA on Sunday, August 11, 2019.

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

It might actually happen.

After Bernie Sanders’ big win in the Nevada caucuses on Feb. 22, the independent Vermont senator is the frontrunner for the first time in a presidential-nomination race. He’s not a statistical leader. He’s not a slight favorite. He’s the real, clear, honest-to-Debs favorite.

There’s plenty that can be done to give the nomination to someone else, either from party apparatus shenanigans or from the campaign’s own mistakes. But for right now, it’s Sanders’ nomination to lose. Let’s look past all the potential dramas of the election cycle — including the final boss battle against President Trump — and imagine what would actually happen with Sanders in the White House.

Congress is still a thing

The legislative accomplishments of President Sanders will definitionally depend on the status of Capitol Hill. With all eyes on the top of the ticket, it’s easy to forget that a third of the Senate and every House seat will be up for grabs on the same day as the Oval Office.

If November procures a narrow victory for Sanders in the Electoral College and Republicans keep control of the Senate, there’s no reason for optimism of passing much of anything. This is why Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, has made a habit of reminding his Twitter followers to “pick a Senate race” to help.

Without the chance to pass big initiatives such as Medicare for All or tuition-free college (or even half-a-loaf versions of them), Sanders would focus on wielding the influence of the executive branch, namely foreign policy and regulatory powers.

In short, Sanders won’t tank the party if party supports him.

He has said that he’ll make climate change a priority for both, with an emphasis on reinstating and enforcing carbon standards the Trump administration has watered down. The future commander-in-chief would also substantially retract the U.S. military presence worldwide. 

But if Mitch McConnell is still the Senate majority leader in 2021, legislative prospects look pretty thin.

Democrats need unity to win back power

If the above scenario sounds bad, it’s because it is. I’m far from the first to say that Democrats need to support the nominee regardless of who it is. This isn’t an “aw c’mon” argument; it’s just how politics works.

The Republican establishment kicked and screamed their way to the Trump nomination in 2016, but once in office, they’ve all pursued a broadly conservative agenda. They turned who they thought was an undesirable nominee, won the election, and they’ve managed to get things done. Taxes were cut. Judges were appointed. Obamacare was crippled.

And Democratic elites are in a better position than the GOP was three years ago. Sanders, unlike Trump, is a politician. 

As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias pointed out in his post-Nevada article, “It’s worth remembering that Sanders is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Congress, not a 20-something hardliner with a red rose on his Twitter bio.”

Sure, Medicare for All still probably won’t happen as the democratic socialist envisions. But if there’s a public option or a Netherlands-style individual mandate, President Sanders won’t veto it. He voted for the Affordable Care Act and a whole slate of Obama-era measures that he surely wasn’t enthusiastic about.

In short, Sanders won’t tank the party if the party supports him.

If Democrats stop dragging their feet and push for a big win in November, they can keep the House and have a real shot at flipping the Senate. Colorado, Arizona, Maine and North Carolina aren’t impossible win; they all have at least one Democrat in a major statewide office. 

This is a winnable election, but Democrats have to want to win it.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.