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Bernie’s Last Stand

Surprise! The guy who isn't a Democrat doesn't really care if the Democratic party loses to Trump.
March 16, 2020
Bernie’s Last Stand
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

The country is facing an exploding pandemic and Bernie Sanders is working on his list of demands from Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden.

Sunday night’s “debate” was an odd scene: The race is functionally over; there was no audience; the two candidates bumped elbows and talked about the importance of social distancing and washing hands. And yet, for Bernie Sanders the dialectic of history is always there—so he went right back to the same ideological agenda that Democratic voters have been rejecting.

To Sanders, the coronavirus is a reason for universal healthcare. It’s also a reason to address income inequality. And a reason to address global warming. Oh, and to rage against the millionaires and billionaires. In other words, this novel pandemic which has plunged the world into uncharted waters was really just another excuse to keep talking about the exact same things he’s been talking about for the last 60 years, ever since he was a member of the Young People’s Socialist League.

It was as if within that sealed debate room, Sanders saw the outside world full of people worrying about panic buying and school closings and caring for older friends and relations as just grist for the same program he’s always wanted.

Joe Biden tried to talk some sense into him. “With all due respect for Medicare for All, you have a single-payer system in Italy,” Biden said, mentioning the country where the coronavirus is ravaging the population and forcing residents into mandated lockdowns. “It doesn’t work there. It has nothing to do with Medicare for All. That would not solve the problem at all.”

Sanders was not willing to listen. He kept reeling through his stump speech, blasting the wealthy who he says are “the power structure in America” and who control politicians, like Biden, with campaign contributions. His plan seems to have been to sit there totally unyielding in the hopes that Biden would bend to his agenda.

And, Biden sure did try.

Over the weekend, Biden attempted to extend an early olive branch or two to the Vermont senator and his supporters. To show support for Sanders’s wish to provide free college for all Americans, Biden released a plan on Saturday to make college free for families that make less than $125,000 a year—a program that Sanders introduced in the Senate several years ago.

This was evidently not good enough.

“It’s great that Joe Biden is now supporting a position that was in the Democratic platform four years ago,” Sanders said in a statement. “Now we have to go much further. We need to make all public universities, colleges, and trade schools tuition-free for everyone like our high schools are. We need to cancel all student debt. And we can fund it with a small tax on Wall Street speculation.”

Not that anyone should have been surprised: As always, Sanders was merely doing what he said he would do. In the run-up to the debate, when many thought Sanders might drop out of the race, Sanders admitted he was “losing the debate over electability” yet continued to pressure Biden to address issues of importance to him—such as healthcare, global warming, student debt, immigration, and income inequality.

So Sanders knows his platform is losing—but he wants to force Biden to campaign on it. It’s almost as if he has no allegiance to the Democratic party and does not especially care whether or not the Democratic nominee beats Donald Trump in November.

Is there any point in trying to appease Sanders? Biden is well on his way towards clinching the Democratic nomination even without the support of the Sanders base. Sure, Biden would like to have the Sanders vote in a general election, but moving too far to the left will undoubtedly alienate many of the more moderate voters who have been handing the former vice president victory after victory so far. It’s not at all clear that he would pick up more votes than he would lose.

During the debate, one got the sense that Biden was ready to give up on Sanders.

At one point, Biden said, “He’s making it hard for me right now. I was trying to give him credit for some things. He won’t even take credit for the things he wants to do.” Which should tell you something.

Bernie Sanders isn’t going away until Democratic voters give him no other option.

Sanders is a man who has refused to call himself a Democrat for most of his life—even today, while he runs in the Democratic primaries his Senate office lists him as an Independent.

And so Sanders didn’t go to the debate Sunday night to win an election, or help unify the Democratic Party. He went to make his last stand. No matter the consequences for anyone else.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.