Sanders’ Movement-Driven Progressive Campaign Draws Opposition From Corporate Democrats

Interview with Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, conducted by Scott Harris

As the Democratic presidential primary campaign moved into its critical final sprint into Super Tuesday and beyond, Bernie Sanders was the clear leader, having won the most votes in caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. The independent Vermont senator become the first candidate from either party to win the popular vote in all three early primary states.

But with Joe Biden’s Feb. 29 victory in South Carolina, owing to majority support from the state’s African American voters, the former vice president rescued his flagging campaign, and set himself up as the centrist Democrats’ last hope to prevent a Sanders nomination. Biden was given a boost before Super Tuesday, when he was endorsed by presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobachar, who ended their campaigns that day, as well as Beto O’Rourke.

Sanders, who defied conventional wisdom with his unexpectedly strong run against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, is credited with moving the party to adopt progressive positions on a host of issues he championed.  But corporate Democrats within the party leadership have made it clear that they fear a Sanders candidacy will be a disaster, ushering in four more years of Donald Trump in the White House, a lost opportunity to win back the Senate and possibly losing control of the House. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with  Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, who talks about the movement to stop Sanders nomination, the threat posed by a divided Democratic party and the importance of a growing progressive movement in the 2020 election.

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, I think what’s been fascinating about this election is the extent to which the progressives in the race, Sanders and Warren have set the agenda, an agenda that the so-called moderates have either had to adopt parts of or react to. And so they have set the tone in terms of agenda. Both Sanders and Warren have proved that kind of fundamental question that you don’t need to rely on deep pockets — or one big pocket like Bloomberg does — of a billionaire to be financially competitive. Both of them have been financially competitive with small donations. And, that is a historic and incredibly big deal because it sets the precedent for future candidates. It develops with the Sanders list and the Warren list, millions of donors that will be active in supporting other progressives in races. So this is a historic turn against the domination of Big Money in our politics.

SCOTT HARRIS: It seems a priority for many Democratic primary voters and Democrats at large around the country is “electability,” given the fact that so many people in the country believe that there’s so much at stake for democracy itself in the November election and that their priority is defeating Trump: “Who has the best chance to defeat Trump?” There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the Democratic party about Bernie Sanders and that his label as democratic socialist will handicap him. And you hear all these predictions about down-ballot defeats and losing the House and missing the chance to take back the Senate. There’s obviously a lot of hype there, given the fact that there are many polls that suggest that Bernie Sanders is equally strong or stronger against Trump than Joe Biden. But polls aren’t everything. What’s your view?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, I think I have thought from the beginning that Biden is the weakest candidate that Democrats could put up. He is the candidate who has been around for a very long time and has been involved or supported kind of the fundamental decisions that were wrong over the last decades. And that’s from mass incarceration to deregulating Wall Street to invading Iraq to kind of the corporate trade accords that have disemboweled the country.

And if Biden is the nominee, he allows Trump basically to rerun the race of 2016. That is, to be the candidate of change against a candidate that has to defend or apologize for all those mistaken judgments. Whereas Sanders or Warren aren’t part of those decisions. Sanders was in office and opposed them and fought against them. They have laid out an agenda that is clearly an agenda for change and they can indict Trump for the con job he has done on working people where he pretended to be their champion and ended up basically enacting the old Republican program that gives tax breaks to the rich and deregulation of the corporations and cracks down on unions and working people. It’s apparent to me that rerunning 2016 is not the way for Democrats to go.

SCOTT HARRIS: Bernie Sanders since 2016 and certainly before has acknowledged the fact that some of the major structural changes that he wants to make in the country and a lot of people want to make are not going to be possible without building an effective movement. And that means going beyond just mobilizing people for elections every four years. How has Bernie done in building a movement since he first ran in 2016 for the presidency?

ROBERT BOROSAGE: Well, there’s no question there are movements out there from the woman’s movement to Black Lives Matter to the Fight for 15 for the minimum wage, low-wage workers to the union movement that’s now started to do strikes for the first time in years. There are movements out there with energy and passion and what Sanders has done, I think effectively and consciously has reached out to them and offered them support, showed up at their rallies and their needs. His major point is right. We’re not going to make these huge changes that we desperately need unless there’s a citizen movement that both propels a candidate into office but stays mobilized and continues to build once he’s in office or she is in office to force the changes that we need and to get those senators and Congresspeople who are standing in the way to either change their mind or get rolled over.

That is a much more realistic statement about where we are than Biden’s notion that Republicans will have an epiphany if he’s elected and they’ll suddenly start cooperating with him, which you would think he would have known better after working with Barack Obama and the obstruction he faced all those years. So Sanders is, I think – in his call for a movement and for a political revolution — is the realist in the crowd. He’s the one who is saying, “This is not going to happen just by electing me.” It’s only going to happen if we build a movement that stays mobilized and gets bigger after the election than it is going into the election.

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