Sen Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and 2016 Democratic primary runner-up whose populist policy agenda has helped push the party to the left, announced Tuesday he was running for president again, embarking on a bid that will test whether he can retain the anti-establishment appeal he enjoyed with many liberal voters three years ago.
A self-styled democratic socialist whose calls for “Medicare for all,” a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public colleges have become pillars of the party’s left wing, Sanders is among the best-known politicians to join an already crowded Democratic field and one of the most outspoken against President Donald Trump, whom he has repeatedly called a “pathological liar” and a “racist.”
“Three years ago, during our 2016 campaign, when we brought forth our progressive agenda we were told that our ideas were ‘radical’ and ‘extreme,'” Sanders said Tuesday in an early-morning email to supporters, citing those health, economic and education policies as well as combating climate change and raising taxes on wealthy Americans.
“Well, three years have come and gone. And, as result of millions of Americans standing up and fighting back, all of these policies and more are now supported by a majority of Americans,” he said.
Sanders did not immediately announce where he would campaign first, nor did he disclose any staffing decisions for his new political operation.
A sensation in 2016, Sanders is facing a far different electoral landscape this time around. Unlike his last bid for the White House, when he was the only liberal challenger to an establishment-backed front-runner, he will be contending with a crowded and diverse field of other candidates, including popular Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who have adopted his populist mantle.
Victories in the 2018 midterm election by women, minorities and first-time candidates also suggest that many Democrats may prefer fresh energy, something which sceptics believe Sanders could struggle to deliver. A 77-year-old whose left-wing message has remained largely unchanged in his decadeslong career, Sanders would also need to improve his support from black voters and quell the unease about his campaign’s treatment of women that has been disclosed in recent news accounts, and that has prompted two public apologies.
Yet almost immediately after making his announcement, Sanders drew criticism for his response to Vermont Public Radio on Tuesday morning when asked if he thought he best represented the current Democratic Party.
“We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the colour of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age,” Sanders said. “I think we have got to try to move us toward a nondiscriminatory society which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”
The Republican National Committee issued a statement about Sanders that reflected Trump’s strategy of labelling his Democratic opponents as “socialists.” The statement criticised Sanders for supporting higher taxes on wealthy Americans to help finance “Medicare for all.”
In an interview on CBS This Morning on Tuesday, Sanders did not shy away from calling himself a democratic socialist in the face of Republican attacks.
Trump, Sanders said, is “going to say, ‘Bernie Sanders wants the United States to become Venezuela.'”
“Bernie Sanders does not want to have the United States become the horrific economic situation that unfortunately exists in Venezuela right now,” he said. “What Bernie Sanders wants is to learn from countries around the world why other countries are doing a better job of dealing with income and wealth inequality than we are.”
Still, Sanders will start his campaign with several advantages, including the foundation of a 50-state organisation; a massive lead among low-dollar donors that is roughly equivalent to the donor base of all the other Democratic hopefuls combined; and a cache of fervent, unwavering supporters. A coveted speaker, he is still capable of electrifying crowds in a way few politicians can. He enjoys wide name recognition, and several early polls on the 2020 race had Sanders running second behind former Vice President Joe Biden.
And while rising stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley have siphoned off some of his authority over the progressive wing of the party, he still claims to have spawned a “political revolution” that, true revolution or not, has reshaped the Democratic Party and ignited a generation of young, socialist-leaning voters.
Sanders is also partly responsible for the party’s decision last year to overhaul its presidential nomination process, including sharply reducing the influence of superdelegates and increasing the transparency around debates — factors he felt greatly favoured Hillary Clinton in 2016.
With his booming voice and familiar wide-armed grip at the lectern, Sanders has long positioned himself as a champion of the working class and a passionate opponent of Wall Street and the moneyed elite. His remarks often include diatribes against “the millionaihs and billionaihs” — one of his most common refrains is that the “three wealthiest people in America own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent” — as well as denunciations of “super PACs” and the influence of big money on politics. In particular, he has sharply criticised Amazon and Walmart over their wages and treatment of workers.
In his planned email to supporters, Sanders laid out a litany of policy issues, familiar to anyone who has followed him through the years: universal health care, tuition-free public college, women’s reproductive rights, lower prescription drug prices, criminal justice reform.
“Our campaign is about taking on the powerful special interests that dominate our economic and political life,” he said.
And while some presidential candidates have avoided direct broadsides against Trump, Sanders — ever combative — addressed his potential opponent head on.
“You know as well as I do that we are living in a pivotal and dangerous moment in American history,” he said. “We are running against a president who is a pathological liar, a fraud, a racist, a sexist, a xenophobe and someone who is undermining American democracy as he leads us in an authoritarian direction.”
© 2019 New York Times News Service