“…It’s true that few serious challengers have ever had so many powerful elements within their own party aligned against them. When WikiLeaks unleashed a trove of nearly 20,000 internal emails between Democratic National Committee staffers mocking Sanders and, at times, outright conspiring against him, it seemed to confirm the worst of his supporters’ suspicions that the game was rigged from the start.
“But Sanders’ campaign against Hillary Clinton was less a civil war within the party than an attempted hostile takeover. To argue that an anti-establishment candidate lost because the establishment was against him is to close off the possibility of ever successfully challenging that establishment—and that would be a deep disservice to Sanders, his supporters and all they accomplished. Instead, it seems worth asking why exactly he came up short, and what it might take, next time, for someone to challenge the establishment and win…
“Sanders came up short by more than 3 million votes—though not enough to prevent many supporters from claiming that it was a combination of election irregularities and voter suppression that cost him the election. But closed primaries are not the same as voter suppression. It’s true that our systems for voting—especially in primaries, which are built on the assumption that not many people participate—are habitually underfunded, understaffed and badly flawed, but there’s no compelling evidence that they’re rigged.
“Whether or not the mainstream media is rigged, on the other hand, is an altogether different question. In December, Media Matters reported that ABC’s World News Tonight had devoted less than one minute to Sanders’ campaign in all of 2015, and they weren’t alone in snubbing him. This despite the fact that Sanders regularly drew more support than the object of the media’s early obsession, Donald Trump.
“Major news outlets also spotted Clinton a 359-delegate lead before the first vote was even cast, by including super delegates in their official results. That helped create a false impression that endorsements from these party insiders are part of the delegate count that determines who ‘wins’ each state (they aren’t), and a false narrative that the race was never close.
“But it’s precisely because of Sanders’ success, against all odds, that the next challenger will face a much different set of assumptions going in. What Sanders did was pull back the curtain on a complacent Democratic establishment, revealing just how hungry people are—especially young people—for a more progressive and populist economic policy.
“Sanders’ supporters and volunteer networks are now part of every state, and their influence will be felt within state parties and progressive organizations for a long time to come. If they’re successful, in the future an establishment (including unions and issue-advocacy groups) that is less complacent, less compromising and more receptive to the wants of its members—a more small ‘d’ democratic establishment—may not be so quick to close ranks around a presumptive nominee.
“In that environment, a campaign that starts early, with a clear commitment to winning and focus on building a broad and inclusive coalition, could play out a lot differently. Sanders was right about the economic moment that we live in, but he somehow missed the larger social movements and forces—including the struggle for racial justice that is being waged in the streets every day…
“Bernie Sanders had a clear message, and he mounted an inspiring campaign that he used to communicate it. The political debate has forever been altered as a result. But winning campaigns are about more than just making a point. Naomi Klein, writing in The Nation, put it this way: ‘We didn’t win, but we could have. We came that close. That’s thrilling. It’s also terrifying. Because if we can win, it means that we must win. That’s a heavy responsibility.’”
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