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Weigel writes: "Earlier this week, before heading downstairs to speak to nearly 3,000 Kentuckians, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reminisced about his 2016 presidential campaign. After he had gained steam, and his rallies had become arena-size events, he was struck by the difference between his crowds and those at Democratic Party fundraisers."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), center, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez, far left, greet members of the band Relic at the Louisville Palace on April 18. (photo: Sam Upshaw Jr./AP)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), center, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez, far left, greet members of the band Relic at the Louisville Palace on April 18. (photo: Sam Upshaw Jr./AP)

Democrats Turn to Sanders and His Star Power to Rebuild the Party

By David Weigel, The Washington Post

20 April 17


arlier this week, before heading downstairs to speak to nearly 3,000 Kentuckians, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reminisced about his 2016 presidential campaign. After he had gained steam, and his rallies had become arena-size events, he was struck by the difference between his crowds and those at Democratic Party fundraisers.

“We’d have a rally with five or ten thousand young people out, a great deal of energy,” Sanders said between bites of a steak sandwich. “Then I’d walk into a room and there’d be a thousand people from the Democratic Party. You were in two different worlds — one full of energy, one full of idealism. And the other, full of good people — I don’t mean to put them down — who are the bedrock of the Democratic Party.”

At that moment, Sanders was on the second day of a week-long, cross-country speaking tour with Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez. The DNC was picking up half the bill for the 12-seat chartered plane as well as the venues, including the downtown Louisville Palace.

As Sanders spoke, Perez was a block away, meeting with party leaders who — like most Democratic leaders — had backed Hillary Clinton for president. Later that evening, they would take a stage and praise Sanders, who is not a Democrat, for reinvigorating their party. A chairman who defeated Sanders’s preferred candidate to run the DNC was now touring as his opening act.

“Our values are aligned on so many of the critical issues that confront the nation and the Democratic Party,” Perez said in an interview. “When people actually look at the platform of the Democratic Party — they’ll say, ‘We need community college!’ — well, look at the platform. When they say, ‘We need a $15 minimum wage’ — look at the platform.”

The first 24 hours of the tour revealed both the strength and the seams in the strategy. It began in Portland, Maine, on Monday evening, where a crowd wrapped around the State Theatre to see the “Come Together, Fight Back” tour. Maine’s Democratic Party leaders flitted through the crowds with clipboards, encouraging fans of Sanders to sign up.

They had competition. A group of rogue “Berniecrats” had brought clipboards of their own, with petitions encouraging the senator to run for president in 2020 as an independent. When the rally began, a mention of Perez was met with boos audible over mild applause; the loudest heckling came from a man whose T-shirt declared his support for the Green Party.

Once onstage, Perez described his Democratic Party as a vessel for activists, with a platform they could love. It was activists, he said, who stopped the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. It was activists who had passed a minimum-wage hike, which Maine’s Republican governor had halted.

“In these first 100 days, the most remarkable thing is not what Donald Trump did — the most remarkable thing is what you did across the county,” Perez said.

The chairman left the stage, and a disembodied announcer introduced Sanders. This time, there were no boos; over 48 minutes, Sanders mentioned Perez’s DNC only once.

“Our job is to radically transform the Democratic Party into a 50-state party,” Sanders said. “Our job is to create a democratic Democratic Party, a grass-roots party, where decisions are made from the bottom up.”

Any Sanders supporter could crack that code. In 2016, especially after it became clear that he could not win the nomination, Sanders and his delegates waged a largely successful campaign to move the party to the left.

The platform Perez could not praise quickly enough had been altered to endorse Sanders’s economic issues, as well as marijuana decriminalization and the end of a ban on federal money paying for abortion. A “unity commission,” created to appease Sanders delegates who blamed “superdelegates” for skewing the primaries, had finally been impaneled — and Sanders was watching to see whether it followed his advice.

Since Clinton’s general election loss, there was little resistance inside the party to Sanders’s politics. As the plane flew to Louisville, a Harvard-Harris poll was being released that found Sanders polling at 57 percent favorability with all voters. No politician in America was better-liked.

“Sanders is an asset to the Democrats,” said Mark Penn, a former Clinton pollster and strategist, in a statement about the poll.

In Kentucky, where Clinton pipped Sanders in the primary, the senator’s star power followed him to every stop. After he finished his steak sandwich, a souvenir-seeker raced to his half-empty plate and picked up a french fry, waving it at a table of his friends like a trophy.

On a midday visit to Frankfort, where the millennial-focused news site Mic had convened a group of Kentucky voters, Sanders walked past posters from his 2016 bid that had never left the venue’s windows; selfie-seekers waited more than an hour to see him.

“The reason we are on this tour is to do nothing less than try to revitalize American democracy,” Sanders said.

Doing so did not mean going easy on Democrats. In Frankfort, as in Monday’s speeches, Perez and Sanders suggested that Democrats had lost voters to Trump’s GOP because they had stopped talking to them. Perez and Sanders took turns explaining to the Mic-assembled panel that Democrats wanted to help them all — to provide free college education, to pay coal miners’ pensions, to make health care cheaper.

“I suspect that the Democratic Party here in Kentucky has not done the kind of job that it should have done in explaining [that] hundreds of thousands of people have received health care,” Sanders said to a scrum of reporters after the panel.

Perez, who has criticized Democrats for the same sins, took more shots at the Trump presidency. “The cost of one trip to Mar-a-Lago would fund the White House logs database for 13 years,” he said, after a windup about the Trump budget’s spending cuts. On the way back to Louisville, Perez suggested that Democrats had countless opportunities to portray Trump as a phony populist; the challenge was in focusing and getting anyone to listen.

“Your life is not going to improve if your family member, who has an opioid addiction, loses his health care,” Perez said. “Your life isn’t going to improve if an infrastructure bill doesn’t have prevailing wage requirements.”

On Tuesday, as the tour continued, Perez and Sanders fell in and out of sync. Perez had spent weeks talking up Jon Ossoff, the Democrat trying to win the suburban Atlanta congressional district vacated when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price joined the Trump administration. After a closer-than-expected April 11 defeat in a Kansas district, Perez thought Democrats needed to “swing at everything.”

Sanders was less interested in the Ossoff race. “He’s not a progressive,” he said. He was endorsing Democrats based on their economic populism; they could differ from progressives on social issues but not on the threat of the mega-rich to American politics. Soon, he said, the 5-to-4 majority on the Supreme Court was likely to make it legal for the wealthy to give unlimited sums to candidates, and the only way to fight back was grass-roots politicking and small donations.

“If you are running in rural Mississippi, do you hold the same criteria as if you’re running in San Francisco?” he said. “I think you’d be a fool to think that’s all the same.”

Sanders had said this before, and each time, he had sparked anger from a center-left ready to accuse him of abandoning women or nonwhite voters. On Thursday, he was set to campaign in Omaha for Heath Mello, a Democrat running for mayor who had previously backed a bill requiring ultrasounds for women considering abortions.

But Perez and Sanders were on the same page about candidate diversity. “I live in the people’s republic of Takoma Park,” Perez said. “If you demand fealty on every single issue, then it’s a challenge. The Democratic Party platform acknowledges that we’re pro-choice, but there are communities, like some in Kansas, where people have a different position.”

By Tuesday night, the tour was starting to click. There was just one heckler in the Palace, who yelled “corporate shill” at the chairman during a quiet moment. As in Maine, there was a standing ovation when a local member of Congress, a Democrat who had backed Clinton, endorsed Sanders’s call for “single-payer,” Canada-style health care.

And there was a smoother stage show. Perez himself introduced Sanders, and the senator told their audience to “bring millions of people into the political process” and create “a political system not dominated by a handful of billionaires.”

After 45 minutes, Perez re-emerged from backstage, following Sanders to the place where a bluegrass band called Relic was playing “This Land Is Your Land.” The two of them clapped along, belting out Woody Guthrie’s lyrics. From a distance, it looked as if they were singing in harmony. your social media marketing partner


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+3 # Time Traveller 2017-04-20 10:09
This could actually work out well, people, if we don't fuck it up through infighting and gutting each other to the delight of the Republicans again.

Sweet Jayzuz, I have never seen such a mass political suicide as we had last year, and I hope it never happens again.
+22 # Rcomm 2017-04-20 10:14
As a Bernie supporter I was disappointed the DNC didn't do considerably more for him during the presidential primaries. It soon became apparent they didn't consider him worthy and put all their energies into electing Senator Clinton. Their plans backfired and we're stuck with the current administration.

Now they're embracing Bernie? It's going to take a lot more than that before I believe it is true and they're not just using him. They have to convince me they really do have us in mind and not politics as usual.

I will continue to support Bernie and hope he can and will help us back on the right track and then run again in 2020.
+21 # Buddha 2017-04-20 10:47
Feels like the same bait-and-switch . I know Bernie feels at this time party "unity" to face down Trump and the GOP is most important, but it still seems the DNC isn't supporting "Berniecrats" (look how little support they gave the Berniecrat in Kansas's special election, but strongly supporting the "Centrist" in Georgia's). Look at DiFi saying she "isn't there yet" for single-payer. The DNC Establishment is still Center-Right and still shilling for the Oligarchy, and I still see little embrace of true Progressivism in the Democratic Party. FDR would be as much on the outside of today's Democratic Party as Sanders is.
-3 # Time Traveller 2017-04-20 12:11
A little Star Power wisdom, circa 1969, Buddha Belly:
+1 # lfeuille 2017-04-20 19:18
yeah, and Bernie knows it. He is quoted in the article as saying Ossoff isn't a progressive. He wasn't one of the multiple Dem. politicians who sent out email pushing the Georgia election. I think he is using the DNC to spread his ideas as much as they are using him and it seems the Berniecrats have succeeded in getting support for Quist out of the party.
+11 # economagic 2017-04-20 11:02
So, the DNC has learned to do a better job of talking the talk. But as long as a significant percentage of the people they choose to run for office, often funding and promoting them over people like Sanders, they are going to have a hard time getting them elected. And yes, Ossoff is their man, and Thompson in Kansas was not so they gave him no support, although neither did they run someone against him. They gave Ossoff $8 million and other assistance and I've been getting 5-10 screaming solicitations from him every day for the past two weeks. The Democratic incumbent he helped Johnson unseat in GA4 a few years ago was Cynthia McKinney, who walked the walk. Just the kind of guy I want to support.
+4 # Blackjack 2017-04-20 15:32
Bernie is politically very savvy, but I do hope that he doesn't fall for the DNC party-boss line because if he does, they will reel him in right after he has delivered everything possible for them. They are working overtime to get corporate Dems to sign up for primaries and those are the candidates they will support--not the Berniecrats. Bernie will be wise to hold onto his donor list. . .forever! That's what the DNC is after. Once they have it, Progressives will be used for extra money-hauls, but will be relegated to the sidelines otherwise.
+1 # Saberoff 2017-04-20 22:58
+2 # librarian1984 2017-04-20 19:44
'Sanders was less interested in the Ossoff race. "He's not a progressive," he said.'

lol. Just as one wonders whether or not Sanders is being duped, he lets you know he is still pretty dang savvy. Good.
+2 # Wise woman 2017-04-20 20:39
Bernie has been around longer than most of the people supporting him. I doubt very much after last year's shenanigans, he will have absolute faith in the party that did him in. He's much too smart for that. What he is attempting is to unite the dems so they don't get slaughtered again. He doesn't need their support for himself. He's already the most popular politician in the country. But he does look out for the friends he's made over the years while caucusing with them.
+1 # librarian1984 2017-04-21 06:49
DP Battle Lines are being Drawn

Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison were in Omaha, NB, to support Democratic mayoral candidate Heath Mello. Mello is progressive economically and had a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood until 2009 when he sponsored state legislation that required women to be informed they had the option to see an ultrasound. (They were not required to see the ultrasound.)

So now Daily Kos and NARAL have withdrawn endorsements for Mello and Joan Walsh of The Nation wrote 'Bye bye, Bernie.'

I support access to abortion. I support enforcing gun control. But I do not demand that every Dem, particularly those in red states, throw themselves under a purity bus.

The DP seems determined to stay out of power -- and looking for excuses to dis Sen. Sanders -- who is the only person keeping them at all relevant. Apparently the fact that millions of people have left the party has not had an impact, and the loss of a thousand legislative seats, 13 governorships, 70 House and 8 Senate seats in the past eight years* has not registered.

If they continue this behavior I dearly hope Sanders will run in 2020 at the head of a new party. The DP is toast.

*Ellison is being criticized for calling Obama out on this, saying that while he has a great legacy, that legacy is imperiled by the loss of so many seats --- and part of the responsibility for those losses lands at Obama's feet. The best thing I've heard from Ellison in a while.
0 # librarian1984 2017-04-21 07:34
One reporter said that at the Omaha rally, when someone on stage yelled, 'Are we here to build the future of the Democratic Party!?' -- the crowd booed.

The DP successfully avoided any consequences for the 2016 debacle -- but that may not serve them in the long run, as we are seeing.

They seem to be trying their best to make sure things get worse before they get better.

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