Mark Shields: Sen. Sanders makes history

Mark Shields

Mark Shields

 

Before ever running for the White House, our typical presidential candidate has already won and held high public office, having served as a governor, mayor or member of Congress. These candidates have almost always known previous political success before nearly every one of them fails in the presidential quest and leaves the campaign. And it is often the case that they are deep in debt, with their personal stature and public record diminished.

But not Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who, regardless of the outcome of his contest with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is guaranteed to leave the 2016 campaign with his political power and influence enormously magnified and with his position in political history secure.

Yes, in New Hampshire, he did become the first Jewish American to win a presidential primary, no minor achievement. But more importantly, at a time when the Democratic Party has rationalized its own growing dependency on six-figure contributions — often from the same business interests that have financed the Republicans (Dems couldn’t afford to “unilaterally disarm” against the GOP) — and muted its economic justice traditions, Sanders, a democratic socialist, liberated the party of FDR from tin-cupping outside the corporate suites by his ability to raise more than $182 million, including $46 million in March alone, in some 7 million individual gifts.

No longer is there the unhappy possibility of voters having to choose, especially on business issues, between “two Republican parties divided by abortion and LGBT rights.”

Consistent with the values of a world leader he so openly admires, good Pope Francis, Sanders insists on looking at the economy from the bottom up and from the outside in. Sanders’ remarkable success all but ensures that the next treasury secretary will not be an alumnus of Citigroup or Goldman Sachs.

Bernie Sanders is the political success story of 2016. Ten months ago in the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, Sanders was 60 points behind Clinton, 75-15 percent. Today, in the same poll, he is the choice of 48 percent of Democrats to her 50 percent, which means Sanders has basically eliminated Clinton’s lead.

Alone of the principal remaining candidates — Clinton, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz — Sanders, with a personal rating among all voters of 45 percent positive to 36 percent negative, gets favorable marks.

Cruz is 26 percent positive, 49 percent negative. Clinton is 32 percent positive, 56 percent negative. And Trump — at 24 percent positive and 65 percent negative among all voters — brings up the rear.

As Oscar Levant said of the fresh-faced singer-actress who played the girl next door, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” Sanders is no plaster saint. He did win his first House race by campaigning against his Republican opponent’s votes to ban semi-automatic weapons and to back President George H.W. Bush’s compromise with congressional Democrats to raise taxes, including the gasoline tax.

Though Clinton is the clear favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination — and, given the historically high voter disapproval of the Republican front-runner, maybe the favorite as well in November — Bernie Sanders is the one candidate certain to emerge from 2016 as the established leader of a real national movement. Having already seen Clinton shift in his direction on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, in opposing the Obama Pacific trade pact and in criticism of Wall Street, Sanders has the voter and donor support to carry his message all the way to the writing of the party platform in Philadelphia. By financing his remarkable campaign independent of any corporate or political action committee ties, Sanders has already written history.

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