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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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Bernie Sanders jumped into the fray this week for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and the senator from Vermont has already displayed a singular strength that will assure he will remain a potent force in what has become a very crowded contest.
It’s the same essential power which drove Sanders’ come-out-of-nowhere candidacy four years ago to nearly topple front-runner Hillary Clinton for the nomination.
And, no, this power isn’t Sanders’ impressive fundraising ability–although he did collect about $6 million in the 24 hours after his campaign announcement. (And recall that, overall, he raised some $230 million in total for his entire campaign last time–mostly from small donors.)
No, the power in question is Sanders’ ability to not only diffuse much of the stigma or controversy which comes with his identity as a “socialist,” and the ideas which go with it, but to turn it around to a positive and potent political message.
Recall that four years ago Sanders–a rumpled, somewhat grumpy 70-something-year-old–mesmerized the nation with his barnstorming campaign of rallies which essentially sold democratic socialism to middle America packaged as a positive, uplifting populism. And middle America lapped it up.
Now, jumping into the 2020 nomination contest, into a much more crowded field of rivals than he faced last time, he’s already given voters a taste with a single tweet:
“If someone wants to call me a radical, okay, here it is: I believe people are inherently entitled to health care. I believe people are entitled to get the best education they can. I believe people are entitled to a clean environment.”
Sanders has always had this excellent ability to boil down what could be complex defenses of “socialist” principles to extremely easy-to-understand concepts.
It’s a skill surprisingly few politicians have. Too often, they fall back on the confusing, wonky terminology of their profession–and it turns voters off.
Not Sanders. He fires them up. He can connect with voters on a personal, visceral and relatable level.
The naysayers will carp at the specifics and costs of Sanders’ goals. But here, too, he has the wind at his back. Recent polling suggests a majority of Americans would support the imposition of a new tax on the super-wealthy, those with more than $50 million.
To be sure: there are others among the current Democratic field who are also just as talented and capable in their own ways.
But anyone writing Sanders off as “yesterday’s candidate,” or somehow out-of-place among the current crop of hopefuls would be doing so at their own political peril.