On a recent “Saturday Night Live,” Bernie Sanders (played by Larry David) exclaimed, “l’m so excited to be back and to ruin things a second time.” The audience emitted a nervous laugh.
The Vermont senator’s fan base takes great offense at the notion that Sanders was a spoiler in the 2016 election who helped elect Donald Trump. But many Democrats believe that and remain bitter over his burnt-earth campaign against Hillary Clinton. This explains Sanders’ frequent shoutouts these days about how he avidly supported Clinton’s candidacy.
Sanders is recovering from his recent heart attack and has wisely eased the pace on his campaign. One of his key issues now is big money’s outsized role in elections. That’s fine, but why is he singling out the Democratic National Convention as the place that needs shaping up, demanding that it ban all corporate donations?
Because Sanders has long reserved his strongest critiques for Democrats who don’t conform to his worldview. From a practical perspective, Democrats can’t unilaterally disarm from fundraising. In any case, it’s odd to zero in on Democrats when the other party is far more bought.
Long after Trump became the Republican nominee, Sanders threatened to withhold his support from the Democrats’ pick if certain demands weren’t met. He never reined in the fanatics he had inflamed against Clinton. At the Democratic National Convention, Sanders delegates booed Clinton surrogates and even chanted, “Lock her up!”
Trump immediately picked up Sanders’ talking points about Clinton being a tool of Wall Street fat cats. Imagine that. And Russian trolls covertly fanned anger in the Sanders base to drain votes from Clinton.
Clinton lost the 2016 election for several reasons. James Comey’s outrageous last-minute dumpster dive into the phony email scandal was one. So was Clinton’s flawed campaign. But Sanders’ almost nonstop trashing of the Democratic Party and its candidate also belongs on the list.
Sanders’ political resume, meanwhile, is far from spotless. Recall that early in the 2016 primary season, it seemed possible that Sanders could get more votes than Clinton; but that the party’s superdelegates could hand her the nomination. Sanders railed at superdelegates for being part of a “rigged” system.
When Clinton later amassed nearly 4 million more votes than he did, Sanders implored the superdelegates to bypass the primary voters’ choice and give him the nomination.
No, it is not true that the Sanders campaign is entirely funded by small donations. Sanders transferred $4.6 million from his 2016 campaign committee to the 2020 one. During the earlier campaign, Sanders held at least nine medium- to high-dollar closed fundraisers, according to Time magazine. One in the home of a Hollywood real estate agent staged a pre-event reception for those who gave the maximum $2,700 or raised $10,000.
In 2017, Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, set up a think tank called The Sanders Institute. Her son was made executive director at a salary of $100,000 a year. She closed the institute down shortly after Bernie announced his 2020 run for the presidency; for obvious reasons.
Sanders has a history of using the Democratic Party when it suits him. An independent for most of his congressional career, Sanders became a Democrat in 2015 so he could run on the party’s presidential ticket in 2016. After the election, he switched his affiliation back to independent. Early this year, he became a Democrat again for 2020.
At this point, Sanders would do the liberal cause and his legacy a service by directing his energy to ending the Trump presidency rather than picking at the Democratic Party. There is a time to reform, but it’s not in the middle of a heated presidential campaign.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at email@example.com.