In five days, the election season will end – just 597 days after Ted Cruz announced his candidacy. And lest we miss the endless madness, there are only around 2640 days left to go until the 2024 Iowa Caucus – an important one for Democrats.
Barring a scenario where Halloween costumes are actually a better indicator of candidate support than polls, and a delusional radio talk show host dethrones Nate Silver as the king of election forecasting, Hillary Clinton is probably going to defeat Donald Trump.
And in the backdrop, Bernie Sanders’ once popular candidacy is now a distant memory. What hurts Sanders the most is the fact that candidate-based “movements” lose a lot of their steam following a presidential election and fail to carry into the next election cycle.
But with Clinton set to win this year and in all probability run again in 2020, Sanders’ movement needs someone new to keep it going. Looking at the lineup of likely front-runners who could emerge in 2024, there is no clear “progressive,” anti-establishment figure with a liberal record who could take the reins from Sanders and keep his revolution alive. Without that kind of leader, everything Sanders represents and fought for will just be a blip in American political history, failing to materialize into actual change.
His ideas need a leader to stand up for them, communicate them and make sure the country takes notice, much like they did of Sanders. And come 2024, when election hysteria engulfs us again, this leader should be able to pivot the spotlight towards a spirited argument for progressive causes.
A movement like Sanders’ needs leadership on the national level to provide maximum visibility, outreach and effectiveness. Currently, Sanders, 75, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 67, are the two firebrands who, while part of the two-party system, have led the way pushing progressive causes through the Senate and giving rousing speeches. Both are bound to retire in the next decade and will definitely not run for president in 2024.
Looking at the contenders for 2024, Tim Kaine appears to be in the strongest position to secure the Democratic nomination after serving as vice president for one or maybe two terms, but he lacks both the charisma and the passion to adopt the image of Sanders. His progressive credentials are relatively nonexistent and his stark blandness isn’t an attractive draw to voters. Another possible candidate is Cory Booker, a man whose centrist politics, including fiscal conservatism, make him the very establishment bogeyman that Sanders supporters resent. And at the Democratic National Convention, they made sure he knew that.
Away from the spotlight, another leading contender is Julian Castro, current secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Castro’s reputation among progressives is underwhelming – his performance as HUD secretary has been perceived as pro-Wall Street. In addition, the fact that he tripped over himself to endorse Clinton, even violating the Hatch Act in the process, will hardly endear him to the Sanders wing of liberals.
Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris are other contenders who could shed the tag of “establishment politician,” but they’ve all embraced the left-center politics that Clinton represents and have firmly tied themselves to her. More importantly, none of them have shown the eagerness to get on the train of Sanders’ movement.
Ultimately, Russ Feingold is the only viable, but still unlikely, contender to take the mantle from Sanders. He ticks the boxes of being both progressive and anti-establishment, breaking from Democrats in Senate votes similar to Sanders. He was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, and he imposed a fundraising limit on himself in 1998. But for now, he lacks the widespread appeal that a Sanders or Warren brings and, having been out of the Senate for six years, he’s been unable to demonstrate his dedication towards progressive causes on a national stage.
There are also two notable representatives, Tulsi Gabbard and Keith Ellison, who have come out in support of Sanders’ cause, but they’re both relatively new to Congress. While an Obama-like rise from freshman member of Congress to president remains a possibility, it’s unlikely either of them will establish themselves as progressive champions, storm the national stage and take the reins of the party in just eight years.
Furthermore, Sanders supporters have pointed to the Green Party as a new refuge for more liberal policies, but the future of Sanders’ movement doesn’t lie in third parties. For all the wistful comparisons drawn to European countries, the two-party system is ingrained in the United States Constitution. The best chance for the movement to survive is through the two-party system, not around it.
An effective down-ballot program to elect progressive liberals at lower levels of government would, in a minor way, serve the purpose of propagating Sanders’ ideas, and he’s established a program to that extent, called “Our Revolution.”
But in its battle against the elites, Sanders’ program currently looks more likely to find the success of the July Turkish Coup rather than that of the French Revolution. And it has had to deal with its own little revolution first; half its staff resigned two months ago over disputes about leadership. In addition, the lack of a prominent figurehead like Sanders has already shown to hurt down-ballot candidates. For example, Sanders-approved Tim Canova, who ran against establishment sweetheart Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 23rd district rued that Sanders hadn’t visited the district or made more direct contributions. He went on to lose to Schultz by over 13 points.
But at the same time, it will be devastating for Sanders’ revolution that Clinton will be face of the Democratic Party between now and the 2020 election, through her presidency and future re-election campaign. That’s plenty of time for another 600-day election season to wipe out our memories of what life was like before it.
In order to remain relevant, Sanders’ movement needs an effective successor to broadcast its message over the next decade. Otherwise, it risks fading away from the memories of American voters, becoming that elderly man’s movement that almost was. Just ask Ross Perot.