Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders announced he will join the crowded Democratic field eyeing the nomination for 2020; launching his second campaign for the White House since 2016.
Sen. Sanders finished runner-up to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Despite his loss, he built a powerful backing of supporters, particularly amongst college students with his progressive stance in advocating for free college tuition.
His popularity amongst college students during his 2016 presidential campaign led to the establishment of the College Students for Bernie. But that organization has since split into the Young Democratic Socialists and Young Progressives Demanding Action, and using that fraction as an example, some students are concerned he could split the over Democratic vote with his progressive viewpoints.
“I’m worried about him splitting the Democratic vote, particularly with Joe Biden if he decides to run as well,” Greek Life student Chanel said. “Kamala Harris is another big name because she has a lot of supporters from her society as well, 150,000 people.”
As it has happened in past presidential elections, splitting the vote can prove consequentially. Notably, the 1912 Presidential election saw Progressive Theodore Roosevelt win two-thirds of delegates from the Republican National Convention, effectively sinking incumbent Republican President William Taft who finished third in the electoral vote. While Roosevelt finished runner-up in the election, his campaign adequately split the Republican vote, and allowed the Democrats to unite behind Woodrow Wilson to win the election.
While Sen. Sanders isn’t the only Progressive Democratic running in the Democratic field for 2020, he is considered the most dangerous to splitting the vote not only because of his strong supporters, but for his political experience he gained form his 2016 campaign. Other progressives such as longtime Senator Elizabeth Warren has political experience, but is running a presidential campaign for the first time.
On a progressive platform, Sen. Sanders commonly reiterates income and wealth inequality by referencing that the top one percent assume more wealth that the bottom 99 percent. In doing so, he typically calls for a downward transfer of wealth form the top through progressive taxes. Other Progressive Democrats, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also linked the idea.
But while the Democratic party usually cites issues revolving around income and wealth inequality as a whole, other prominent Democrats within the party have viewed the progressive calls of denouncing corporations as a bit too profound.
Another progressive stance Sen. Sanders takes is on the idea prison reform. Although Democrats overwhelmingly supported the First Step Act—that was collaborated on a bipartisan basis with Republicans and President Trump’s signing of the bill gave him his greatest bipartisan victory to date—some Progressives, including Sen. Sanders feel it’s just a first step in a long road toward achieving change.
“We are spending $80 billion a year to lock up 2.2 million people, disproportionately African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans,” Sen. Sanders tweeted. “We need real, comprehensive criminal justice reform. We must invest in jobs and education, not more jails and incarceration.”
While the bill tackles criminal justice reform in a broad sense that includes readjusting sentencing laws and expanding job training along with other programs aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners, it does fall short of the kind of legislation Democrats proposed during Barack Obama’s presidency, especially mass incarceration—which was a strongpoint during Obama’s presidency.
Along with a progressive tax, single-payer health care system and prison reform, some are beginning to see Progressives Democrats like Sen. Sanders as too alarming for the Democrats in their chance to take back the White House in 2020.
“He’s way too radical for the Democratic party,” said Greek Life students Jaylyn. “Wealth distribution and prison reform are huge tasks that aren’t going to be change overnight.”
Even though radical ideas that can possibly prove disastrous within a political party by dividing members amongst themselves, innovative ideas that stray from the prominent base could also prove successful. When looking back at 2016, not only did President Trump win the election practically on an independent basis, but a lot of these progressive ideas on the Democratic side proved successful by judging Sen. Sanders influence.
As the elections turned out the way they did, one thing both sides of the aisle had in common were new movements based on new innovative ideas from within their party. In other words, a new way of thinking to challenge the more prominent voices within the political system.
And with the recent midterm elections proving the most diverse Congress in its history, new ideas potentially could persuade more idealogical thinkers on a basis of unity, rather than individual prominence. In essence, Progressivism could prove to be a Democratic answer in the same way Trump was for the Tea Party—which formed immediately after the inauguration of Barack Obama.
“Make things different and help create buzz,” said Greek Life Student Jalen in response to Sen. Sanders 2020 presidential bid. “He will bring back energies to help people think of ideas in a different way.”