“From the start, he said: ‘This campaign is not about me’ – it’s a chance for voters who’ve been disregarded and discarded to forge a new political revolution that will continue to grow beyond this election and create a true people’s government.” ~ Jim Hightower, speaking on behalf of Bernie Sanders
Though Bernie Sanders is mathematically eliminated from winning the Democratic nomination, he should be commended for his presidential efforts. His grassroots campaign was sustained by a remarkable groundswell of small-time donors, dedicated volunteers, and enthusiastic supporters.
Understandably, Sanders remains in the race to gather up as many delegates as possible to potentially influence the DNC platform. Losing the nomination doesn’t mean that Sanders and team cannot leave a lasting impression on the agenda of a party that did not fully embrace them.
However, once the national election ends, Sanders’ time in the Senate and his post-political career will determine the viability and sustainability of the “political revolution” he dared supporters to envision during this election season.
In no particular order, the following are recommendations of what Sanders should really focus on once the dust of the 2016 election settles.
Recruit and Support #FeelTheBern Protégés
A consistent criticism of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was the inevitability of a confrontational Congress that wouldn't play ball with his radical agenda. If you thought congressional Republicans were obstructionist with a POTUS who they erroneously labeled as a socialist, just imagine what would happen if a real one was elected.
The next generation of #FeelTheBern must seek national office. To make headway in Congress, Sanders must champion the campaigns of those he has inspired. It worked for the tea party, and it can work for Sanders too.
Sanders has already started to identify the younger wards of his movement. In one fell swoop, Sanders endorsed Pramila Jayapal (Washington), Zephyr Teachout (New York), and Lucy Flores (Nevada), buoying their fledgling congressional runs. Leveraging his robust network of supporters, Sanders was able to bring a lot of attention and funds to these three progressive candidates.
But he shouldn’t stop there. Another campaign that he should lend his name recognition and fundraising prowess: Timothy Canova. Canova is running for Florida’s 23rd district. He is a staunch supporter of campaign finance reform, reversing income inequality, addressing climate change, and ending the War on Drugs.
More importantly, he is in a primary against incumbent Debbie Wasserman Schultz. If you don’t know Schultz by now, she is the current DNC chair and punching bag for Sanders supporters who feel like he didn’t get a fair shake during the Democratic primaries.
All it would take is a simple mentioning of Canova’s campaign by Bernie to inspire a money bomb and media blitz to boost his chances at beating Schultz. Unseating Schultz would be the symbolic first shots fired of the "political revolution" Sanders openly waged during his campaign.
Sanders has not yet lent his support to Canova out of an obvious conflict of interest: Openly challenging a higher-up of a party, which he is trying to court, makes for awkward politics. However, as Sanders approaches the twilight of his political career, he may need to reevaluate what bridges might not be worth keeping when he heads off to pasture.
Just Join the Green Party Already
Sanders has avoided third party affiliation out of fear of being a spoiler, shaving votes away from Democratic candidates. However, it is not likely that Sanders will have to ever endorse another Democratic candidate again. At the ripe age of 74 and up for re-election in 2018, Sanders most likely doesn’t have another four years left in his career.
Furthermore, it has become painfully clear that the Democratic Party will never embrace Sanders as its leader. Also, the party will not willingly reform itself, so the chances of instilling long-lasting change from the inside will be slim to none.
However, there is one party that shares the values, philosophy, and almost a mirror image of Sanders' presidential platform: the Green Party. From a living wage to ending the Drug War, no party is more aligned with Bernie's political visions.
There is nothing wrong with Sanders' long-standing commitment to being labeled an independent, but his party affiliation (or lack thereof) isn’t why he gets elected and re-elected. He wins landslide re-elections based on his reputation with his Vermont constituents. Changing from an (I) to a (G) will have little impact on his electability; however, the change will have quite the impact on the name recognition of the Green Party.
Sanders has always expressed his concern over the corruption of the two-party system.
“Sometimes the two-party system makes it very, very difficult to get on the ballot if you are a third party, and I think that’s wrong,” Sanders stated during a Nevada candidate forum. “I think we should welcome competition.”
Well, here's your chance to support that competition, Bernie. No gesture would be more profound or more empowering to the third party movement than a prominent and nationally-recognized political figure like Sanders officially registering with the Green Party.
The Greens have already extended an open invite for Sanders to join their cause. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein encouraged Sanders to collaborate with her during the campaign trail. Though he obviously won't accept the invite in 2016, he may want to consider it in the future.
Teaming Up with Libertarians
There are obvious caucusing opportunities with other progressive members of the Senate, such as Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, and Ed Markey. However, there are also opportunities to work closely across the aisle with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.
Though consensus won’t be achieved on fiscal matters, reforms addressing the weakening of civil liberties can make for an interesting bipartisan narrative that has been routinely ignored by both major parties.
This isn’t a foreign concept to Sanders. He teamed up with Rand Paul in the past on a few issues, most recently during the libertarian-leaning Republican’s effort to audit the Federal Reserve.
However, this attempt at bipartisan collaboration needs to not only become more frequent, but also turned into an organized caucus. Developing a voting caucus dedicated solely to enhancement of civil liberties will become vital to addressing the impending executive overreach of our next heavy-handed POTUS — whether Trump or Clinton.
Furthermore, as Sanders’ potential network of #FeelTheBern protégés develops, an existing pool of libertarian-leaning congressmen already exists in the House. U.S. Reps. Thomas Massie, Justin Amash, and Raul Labrador represent the next generation of Republicans inspired by the Ron Paul movement. All three have openly challenged the Patriot Act, NSA surveillance, and other issues that illuminate the steady erosion of constitutional rights.
Expanding this caucus into both legislative houses will be a necessary tool to mobilize around legislation related to government surveillance, military spending, foreign wars, crony capitalism, and other issues that Sanders shares common ground with libertarian-leaning Republicans.
The true test of the Sanders campaign begins after November 8, 2016. Will Bernie Sanders still “feel the Bern” in 2018, 2020, and beyond? If not, the Sanders campaign will have been in vain.