The Definitive Case for Why Bernie Sanders Should Run as a Third Party Candidate

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The Definitive Case for Why Bernie Sanders Should Run as a Third Party Candidate

To chants of “Bernie Or Bust,” Bernie Sanders, following super Tuesday’s results, told his supporters that he would continue the fight until the convention in Philadelphia. In spite of the night’s losses, the excitement in the room was palpable. You would never know that the media had declared him the loser listening to the crowd. Energized supporters booed the mainstream media, and Hillary Clinton, and cheered loudly at the announcement. Sanders has won 11.9 million votes and 22 states over the course of the race, making him a greater political force than anyone could have predicted. The Vermont Senator then warned that his agenda would be the future of the Democratic Party.

That is absolutely accurate, but there is another possibility: the third party run Sanders has said he will not explore. With the final results in and Clinton ahead in pledged delegates, it is looking like the former Secretary of State will be the Democratic nominee for President, and Sanders has promised to back her if she is. However, in light of the questionable process that gave us this result, he should reconsider.


The United States has a long history of two-party dominance. The reasons for this duopoly are many, but the major one is the fact that the platforms for each of the parties are generally broad enough to encompass the majority of the electorate. Therefore, instead of competitive third parties, we have a rotating system whereby newly viable parties supplant older ones, rather than adding to the voters’ option pool. Our current party system is the longest in American history.

When most people think of third party challengers, they think of candidates who siphon votes, but never win. That’s because, generally speaking, in order for a third party to become successful (replace an existing party) it must have a broad platform and there must be a political realignment.

A realignment occurs when voters change their behavior in response to a shake up of the existing political order due to one or more unusually polarizing, divisive issues, which advantages one party, and changes the political landscape. This process takes roughly either 30 years or 60 years, depending on which school of thought one follows — Walter Dean Burnham’s or A. James Reichley’s.

As a friend of mine keeps reminding me, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this process is what led to the dissolution of the Whig Party. The Whigs split over the issue of slavery, giving rise to the Republican Party, and setting the stage for the critical 1860 election.

The Stage is Set

Today, we are seeing history repeat itself, as this process plays out again. There has been a disruption of the political order due to issues of massive economic and political inequality.

The United States has essentially become an oligarchy in that the collective voice of the American people has a negligible impact on public policy while the demands of the wealthy elite are determinative. Simultaneously, economic inequality has risen to Gilded Age levels with an overwhelming majority of new income going to the top one percent. Wages have stagnated for decades and the middle class has shrunk. There are currently 20 million people who are either uninsured or underinsured, and student loan debt has skyrocketed. These realities have shifted the lens through which the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are defined.

On both sides of the aisle, people are rejecting the establishment politics of the last four decades which gave rise to the current state of affairs. As far as the major parties are concerned, polls indicate that most Americans do not feel represented, and consistently feel as though they are on the losing side.

Hillary Clinton, her allies in the DNC, and the media establishment are dead set on resisting this shift and ignoring political and economic inequality. The party lined up behind her before any votes were even cast, and the media has run with the narrative that she is “inevitable” since. Attempts to discuss the critical issues and challenge that apparent collusion have been met with appeals to identity politics, attacks based on privilege, and smears based on the actions of a fringe few — disregard from both Clinton’s party and media allies.

Making matters worse, is Clinton’s platform is a testament to this disregard — a tepid collage of weak policies and industry-approved plans. Additionally, throughout the primary the former Secretary has been illegally coordinating with super PACs powered by Wall Street and other special interests, fundraising at expensive functions inaccessible to ordinary Americans and hobnobbing with the wealthy elite, and accepting donations from virtually anyone who will give her money including Republican mega-donors. She has also refused to release the transcripts of the paid speeches that made her a millionaire, and has responded to demands to do so with obvious contempt.

Clinton is ensuring that the Democratic Party will not seize on the anti-establishment fervor defining our modern age. Through her unwillingness or inability to adapt, the former Secretary is alienating not only a significant portion of her own base, but independents as well.

The Republican Party is also doing its best to resist the shift in focus from social issues to economic and political ones. While outsider and all-but-certain nominee Donald Trump has been embracing a relatively populist platform — railing against bad trade deals and “hedge fund guys”, the party leadership like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have sought to temper this rhetoric by threatening to withhold support in November. Additionally, Trump’s bigoted social platform, questionable integrity, and extreme inexperience have left the door open for a party to fully seize on the anti-establishment anger.

Opportunity Calls

Thanks to their respective contributions to the status quo as well as their current resistance to address economic and political inequality, the major parties have alienated nearly a quarter of American voters who now say they would vote for a third party candidate if faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

This is where opportunity lies for Bernie Sanders and his progressive movement. Sanders adeptly and thoroughly addresses the country’s defining inequities in his platform, and he has none of the weaknesses of the other candidates. Like Clinton he is socially liberal, but like Trump he has outsider appeal. Further setting him apart is the fact that a majority of Americans trust him. Sanders is the only candidate running with positive favorability ratings, and the only candidate for whom those ratings increase the more people learn about him.

The stage is set for Sanders to enter the race and lay the groundwork for new left wing party. Though the odds are long that he could win, theoretically he could pull voters from both Clinton and Trump. Additionally, the largest voter bloc in the U.S. are independent voters — representing 39 percent of the electorate as opposed to just 32 percent for Democrats and 23 percent for Republicans. These voters prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by sizable margins. This is why, according to RealClearPolitics averages, Sanders outperforms Clinton in hypothetical contests against Trump.

Even if he does not win, he could still cause a dealignment of voters from both the Democrats and the Republicans and perhaps a realignment to whatever party banner he runs on. It is possible, maybe even likely that he would usher in a new political system and a new era in American politics — he has the name recognition now, and the popularity to do it.

The Green Party would be the ideal vehicle for this pursuit as it would make getting around “”sore loser laws easier, but Sanders would have to be at the head of the ticket given his popularity and name recognition compared to that of Dr. Jill Stein.

We Need a Third Party Challenger

Thus far, we have examined how Bernie Sanders could run as a third party, but we haven’t looked at why he should. The answer is very simple: A race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump means that one of them will win the presidency.

1) Clinton Wins

Political Implications

As I have written in previous pieces, including one this week, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency in 2016 she will certainly lose in 2020 — a Census year — which would likely cost the Democrats the down-ballot race, and by extension the House of Representatives until 2031.

There are several reasons for her imminent defeat:

A. Demographic shifts: Clinton’s voters are generally older, and in four years, there will be fewer of them.

B. Personal flaws as a candidate: As previously mentioned, Clinton has been both unable and unwilling to adapt to the changing political landscape. In addition to that, she is viewed as “”dishonest and a “”liar. That has not been helped by the FBI investigation into her use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.The more people find out about her, the less they like her.

C. Historical trends: the last two consecutive two-term presidents from the same party were James Madison and James Monroe. Unlike Sanders who has outsider appeal and a history of being an independent, Clinton is a quintessential establishment Democrat who has had to evolve on the most important issues facing the country.

D. She’ll run on a four-year record of no accomplishment: It is likely the House will remain obstructionist and in GOP control — and even if it doesn’t, Clinton is only pushing for minor changes. The American people are demanding broader action than she can and wants to deliver. After one term, people will be sick of waiting, but won’t trust her that she’s fighting for them.

E. She may take us to war: Clinton will almost assuredly further embroil the country in conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa which will also weigh on her popularity. If her record is any indication, she’s consistently quick on the draw when it comes to using our military to resolve problems around the globe, but without considering the consequences. Americans are war weary.

The last Census year (2010) the GOP won big. As a result, the districts were gerrymandered to the point where the Democrats have failed to gain a majority in spite of winning the popular vote by nearly 2 million nationwide in 2012. The 2020 redistricting will be far worse because the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which set the standard for the law’s preclearance requirement. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court held that the old standard to trigger preclearance — a history of racial discrimination — was no longer relevant and was therefore unconstitutional.

If the Democrats cannot win the House, they will be unable to deliver on the changes people want to see. I’ve written many times that political parties have a limited time in which to pass their agendas. Thus losing 2020 will not only put the GOP in power, it will kill the Democratic Party by (rightly) killing voter confidence in its ability to follow through on promises. Without a major party to push its agenda, progressivism will be dead in the water.

This is probably the worst case scenario for progressives and independents.

Media Implications

In addition to the long term implications of a Clinton win for progressives, there is something else to consider: its impact on our democratic process.

While Clinton’s insider game has benefited her throughout the primary, the media has delivered the victory. Hillary was called the inevitable candidate from the start, and it has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. If this primary is defined by anything, besides political and economic inequality, it would be media bias.

My colleague, Shane Ryan, just wrote a piece about how the Associated Press, on the eve of the final Super Tuesday, declared the former Secretary the presumptive nominee based on superdelegate votes which do not occur until the July convention. While both Sanders’ and Clinton’s camps have denounced the declaration, it was still disseminated by virtually every other mainstream media outlet including The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Politico.

Since the outset of the primary, the media has played fast and loose with influencing the electorate — and that probably has something to do with the fact that Clinton has so many ties in the media. As I wrote in my first “How the Hell We Got Here” piece:

The Clintons also established financial ties with many individuals in the media including Chris Matthews (indirectly), Stephanie Cutter, Maria Cardona, Sara Fagen, Hari Sevugan, and Lynda Tran. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who purchased The Washington Post in 2013, made millions as a result of a government contract through the State Department while Clinton was Secretary. Former right wing political hitman David Brock, who runs several pro-Clinton super PACs that coordinate directly with the campaign, purchased Blue Nation Review. CNN too has financial ties to the Clintons. It is owned by Time Warner, one of the former Secretary’s largest career donors. Similarly, Comcast which owns MSNBC, is another big Clinton donor. David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president even threw her a fundraiser…

The media, from CNN to Politifact, waged a war on Bernie Sanders, giving him significantly less coverage than Trump and perpetuating a narrative that the race was decided for Clinton from the outset. Often the coverage Bernie received compared to his opponent was decidedly more negative. Most major publications endorsed Hillary Clinton, and some went further. The Washington Post took it further and published 16 negative stories on Sanders in just 16 hours. In fairness to WaPo, they did publish the same amount of positive Bernie stories when they got called out, but after that, business went back to anti-Bernie spin. The New York Times stealth edited a pro-Sanders piece in such a way as to change the positive tone of the piece and make it negative. Blue Nation Review happily churns out multiple pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders stories every day.

The precedent that a Clinton win will set is that the media gets to decide the president, and the journalistic abuses we have seen are acceptable in the future — and that is not something our democracy can afford.

2) Trump Wins

The other scenario is Donald Trump wins the presidency. Speaking in the long term, this option is only slightly better because it will not cripple progressivism by killing the Democratic Party. Additionally, the media has not been pushing Trump in the same way it has Clinton. Though, while the country would survive, bad journalism would not be reinforced, and perhaps our relationship with Russia would improve, the idea of The Donald in charge is a frightening gamble.

On the one hand, Trump’s record and populist rhetoric suggests that he might tack to the left of Clinton on certain issues, in the general election. After all, he’s been consistently against bad trade deals since the 90’s, he was skeptical of the Iraq War, and he’s in favor of medical marijuana while Clinton is against it. But, on the other hand, his current policy platform, his outlandish and bigoted statements, and his judicial nominee list are troubling.

Bernie Must Run

No matter who wins in a Clinton v. Trump race, it is becoming increasingly clear that without Bernie Sanders in the race, there are no good options for progressives and independents who favor progressive change.

Even if, as I suggested in a piece from March, Clinton and Trump cause a total party realignment around the issues of economic and political inequality, whereby progressives begin to join the GOP and the wealthy elite begins to join the Democratic Party, that would still delay progressive change for years — and many voters cannot wait that long.

The most important thing about Senator Bernie Sanders is the fact that he represents the people against an entrenched political and media establishment that does not want to really change the status quo. He represents change. That’s why Bernie should run as an independent if he is denied the nomination. Even if he does not win, he could still create the vehicle for future progressive change in America.

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