We are approximately six years away from anyone casting a vote in the presidential primaries (sure, it’s more like ten months until Iowa, but we’re going on feel here), and a whole universe of meaningful and idiotic events will occur between now and then. Anything that happened on the ides of April will be forgotten, even if their effects linger on. Still, even considering the temporal quality of anything and everything at this point in the cycle, Bernie Sanders woke up Monday morning and had himself a day.
It started with an Emerson poll that showed, for the first time ever on a national level, Bernie Sanders leading Joe Biden and the rest of the Democratic field. That same poll had Biden leading Sanders by 10 percent in February, and then showed them tied in March. Sanders’ current five-point lead is consistent with this trend, and it’s also consistent with those who believe that Biden is a paper tiger whose support is more based on Obama nostalgia than any true personal qualities, and who will begin a quick fade the minute he’s under a much harsher spotlight. Sanders can now realistically cast himself as the frontrunner, and despite all his success in 2016 and his fundraising and volunteer success this year—and though some of us have always believed he was the favorite in this primary—he’s never truly been able to say that before.
Next came his Fox News town hall, an event for which he was criticized in some corners in the left. You can watch part 1 here, and part 2 here, and I highly recommend it, but all you really need to know about Sanders’ success is that even reliably liberal-center outlets like Vox (“Bernie Sanders’s Fox News town hall wasn’t a debate. Bernie won anyway.”) and The Atlantic (“Bernie Sanders’s Town Hall on Fox News Paid Off”) had nothing but praise for the performance (Ezra Klein, in what counts as a mild surprise, even tweeted the story). Philip Bump at WaPo gave him credit for “piercing the Fox News bubble” while noting that Fox News quickly did damage control in their post-town hall programming. Other outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News itself, focused on his tax returns and took a decidedly negative tone within a neutral framework, but across the Internet the reaction was almost unanimously positive, even if that positivity was occasionally grudging.
And even as campaign season marches on, there was one iconic moment that will be re-played again and again:
As others pointed out, the amount of time given to substantive progressive policy was also a shock:
Finally, just before the town hall began, Sanders released ten years of tax returns, putting an end to demands from both left and right that have grown more clamorous especially over the past month. They showed that in 2016 and 2017, he earned more than one million dollars in revenue from his books (it dipped this year), and predictably, some outlets—the Times again, of course—exploited the “Sanders is part of the one percent!” angle. At the town hall, the Fox co-hosts asked him if he would donate more money to the IRS, and these two lines of attack will undoubtedly follow him all campaign. But Sanders was ready with his counter-argument:
“This year, we had $560,000 in income,” Sanders said. “In my and my wife’s case, I wrote a pretty good book. It was a bestseller, sold all over the world, and we made money. If anyone thinks I should apologize for writing a bestselling book, I’m sorry, I’m not gonna do it.”
He’ll have to hone that in the days to come, and make it clear that earning a profit for labor—even a big profit—is distinct from the ruinous capitalism that he decries, but the larger point is that he’s put the tax returns issue behind him, and ended that line of attack.
Further developments await, and the story of this primary is far from written, but Monday was the single strongest day of the 2020 campaign for any candidate, and a sign that just as in 2016, momentum belongs squarely to one candidate.