The Sanders Threat
At National Journal, Josh Kraushaar writes of Bernie Sanders:
In the past, the notion of an unreconstructed socialist winning widespread support—even as a protest candidate—would have been fanciful within the Democratic Party. The closest recent parallel to Sanders is Dennis Kucinich, who tallied less than 4 percent of the total primary vote in 2004. Ralph Nader's high-water mark was in 2000, when his 2.7 percent third-party tally was nonetheless enough to spoil Al Gore's hopes for the presidency. Other progressive insurgents within the party, from Vermont's own Howard Dean to Bill Bradley to Gary Hart, were squarely within the party's mainstream—even if they stood on the leftward side of it.
ke the tea-party stirrings among Republicans in 2009, the Sanders boomlet is a sign that liberal activists are getting restless, and looking for a fight. For the first time, congressional Democrats have shown a willingness to torpedo an important presidential initiative to placate the base. Organized labor is threatening to challenge vulnerable moderate Democrats in primaries if they vote for the president's fast-track trade authority. One of the most pugilistic progressives in Congress is getting closer to a Senate bid, even though it could endanger the Democrats' prospects for a Senate majority in 2016. The newly-aggressive grassroots are letting their ideology blind them to the political realities of the moment.
This is the real threat that Sanders poses to Clinton—not as a candidate, but as a sign that the Democrats' version of the tea party is ascendant at the worst possible time. By nonideological standards, Sanders is a weak challenger; he's got an unhealthy mix of Donald Trump's ego and Michele Bachmann's bombast. He's won statewide office in Vermont, the most liberal state in the country, with a population smaller than Bachmann's old congressional district.Sign up form for the newsletter
But Sanders is poised to play the same role as Mitt Romney's 2012 GOP tormentors, a motley cast of characters who stood no chance of winning the nomination but gradually pushed Romney to the right. After all, Romney's infamous line about "self-deportation" was a reaction to the fear that he was vulnerable on his right flank from the likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.