Sun editorial:

Now as the front runner, Sanders must pivot toward inclusion


Steve Marcus

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally at the Springs Preserve Amphitheater Friday, Feb. 21, 2020.

Following his win in the Nevada caucuses this past weekend, Bernie Sanders stood before a rally crowd in San Antonio and presented himself as the antidote to President Donald Trump’s divisive leadership.

“We’re going to win because we’re doing the exact opposite: We are bringing our people together — black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight,” Sanders said.

That’s a wonderful sentiment, but now it’s time for the Vermont senator to put his money where his mouth is in terms of being a unifying force. Having strengthened his position as the front-runner in Nevada, Sanders urgently needs to start reaching out to moderates and other wings of the party to show that he’s capable of working with others, building coalitions of people with disparate interests, and successfully leading people who aren’t 100% in his corner.

To this point, he’s positioned himself as a grievance candidate — grievance against the Democratic Party in general, grievance against the economic system, grievance against various groups (such as the energy industry, insurance companies, Wall Street) he indiscriminately accuses of victimizing Americans, etc.

And in each grievance there are elements of truth, but Sanders pushes it too far and his rhetoric ends up accusing vast numbers of Americans of being villains.

That’s Trump’s game. Think about it: How different is it than Trump railing about fake news, scapegoating immigrants and attacking Republicans who dare not to agree with him?

That approach is pulling the country apart at the seams.

What America needs is a leader who can reach across populations and persuade as well as listen to the concerns of others about his or her candidacy, and about the problems we face as a nation. Sanders has presented himself as someone reluctant to listen but quick to judge others.

In Nevada, Sanders proved he could draw support from voters outside of his young and progressive base. Voters in the Latino and black communities played a key role in propelling him to victory here, and Sanders emerged from the caucuses with a credible claim of building a multiracial and multigenerational coalition of voters in Nevada.

But now, Sanders owes it to that broad swath of voters — and to all Americans — to start acting like a candidate who could become a president capable of leading a diverse nation, not simply spearhead a rebellion that lacks a majority on its own.

Sanders needs to remember that although he won handily in Nevada — he received 47% of the vote, compared with 20% for No. 2 finisher Joe Biden — he still hasn’t drawn a majority vote among members of his own party.

So it’s critical for Sanders to be a leader for more than his base, and not just for him and his candidacy. We’ve seen where base politics lead during Trump’s three years in office, and we must stop it.

That’s where Sanders’ uncompromising nature becomes worrisome. Too often, he’s sacrificed progress on issues in the name of moral absolutism. So he and his supporters react to any pushback to his wealth tax as an assault on the working class; any opposition to his “Medicare for All” plan as robbing Americans of health care; any criticism of his immigration policies as an attack on human rights.

This is not healthy. Sanders is on the right track with many of his key policy positions — reducing income inequality, expanding health coverage, reforming the immigration system and reversing climate change, among them — but the nation needs a leader who can forge workable solutions to its problems, not one who adopts an ideological stance and refuses to budge an inch.

He must recognize that even among Democrats, there’s genuine and justified concern about how his proposals would affect Americans and how he would pay for the huge price tag of his agenda, which has been estimated as high as $60 trillion-plus. His Medicare for All plan would cost $30 trillion alone over 10 years.

Now that he’s more firmly in place as the front-runner, Sanders should focus more on explaining how his policies work and how he would generate support for them, as opposed to why they’re needed. Further, he needs to accept input and demonstrate a willingness to adjust in ways that will serve the best interests of Americans beyond his base.

Meanwhile, the Democratic establishment should realize that the Sanders momentum is further evidence that neither party has successfully addressed the angst of the working and middle class in America, which has been struggling for decades. The past three presidential elections, voters made it clear they’re starving for relief and change — and neither have arrived. The entire Democratic Party should look at Sanders and learn a lesson: For a large portion of the country the status quo just means more hardship. People need relief.

It’s also crucial that the next president restore a reasonable level of transparency to the Oval Office and be more forthcoming with Americans. That being the case, Sanders should immediately release his medical records to address any concerns about his age (78) and any lingering effects from the heart attack he suffered last year in Las Vegas, or other health issues that have been identified.

Sanders took a strong step forward in Nevada, no question. But to achieve the unifying vision he presented to his rally crowd in Texas, he must expand his support among Democrats and others who are wary of his Trump-like “my way or the highway” attitude.