Bernie & the Nyets: The Sanders Campaign is Built to Lose

To attack the Establishment, one can't BE the Establishment.

BERNIE SANDERS HAS BEEN the unquestioned front-runner for less than a week, and it’s been four days of unmitigated disaster: bristling when his intelligence briefing about Russian interference went public, making unfounded accusations against journalists, shitting on the Democratic Party “establishment,” extolling the virtues of Fidel Castro, foundering in an attempt to explain how his pie-in-the-sky proposals might be paid for, and, of course, failing to rein in his notoriously combative “bros.”

This is all to be expected. To be the front-runner is to be the establishment, after all, and Sanders has defined his campaign, and indeed himself, as anti-establishment—whether that establishment be Republican or Democrat:

He’s the permanent Opposition Party, Jeremy Corbyn with a Brooklyn accent. As such, his campaign is built to lose.

As a grievance monger, Bernie Sanders must distance himself from the Democratic party that is the prime source of most of his grievances. That’s why he calls himself an Independent, while caucusing with—and running as one of, and, crucially, accepting money and resources from—the Democrats. Just as the Russian mafiya needs the structures of Western government to operate effectively, so Bernie needs the Democratic Party to be in the hands of actual Democrats—what his surrogates derisively call “centrists.”

This compulsive need to be anti-establishment is the basis for Bernie’s long-held, and long-debunked, contention that the DNC was “rigged” in 2016. Fact check: HRC kicked his ass from here to Vladivostok. By every available metric, she destroyed him. She was far and away the more popular choice among Democrats:

Unlike the selfish Independent, Hillary was actually financing down-ticket candidates. And she was also, you know, a member of the party.

Yet the Big Lie that Bernie was somehow cheated out of the nomination endures. This is quite like the Knicks blaming a 30-point blowout loss on the refs. (Much of the blame for this mess lies with the hapless Tom Perez, who treats Bernie like a mean girl he’s desperate to keep at his nerd kegger in some forgettable teen movie, but I digress).

On the campaign trail, Bernie rails, as he always has, against the usual boogeymen: Wall Street, the banks, private health insurers, Big Pharma. He’s not wrong that those industries need more regulation—well-regulated capitalism being the most perfect economic system—but he tends to speak in abstract terms. Nuance eludes him. If he really did “break up the banks,” as he likes to say, what happens to the economy? If he kills the entire health insurance industry, what happens to the hundreds of thousands of people that industry employs? To date, as a long-shot outsider, he has not had to have specific solutions, just gripes.

But front-runners need actual plans. Their math has to add up. On 60 Minutes this Sunday, Anderson Cooper eviscerated Bernie Sanders, exposing him, once again, as an unserious candidate. When asked how much his grandiose proposals would cost, Bernie—who has had four fucking years to think about this since botching the question in 2016—could not summon an answer:

Unlike another progressive candidate I can think of, he does not have a plan for that—or, indeed, for anything. Why? Because he doesn’t actually expect to win. He is like a Socialist Statler or Waldorf, hurling invective from the safety of the Bolshevik balcony; he does not belong on the stage, and deep down, he knows it.

Even his reputation as the “amendment king,” of which he boasted to Cooper, is an outgrowth of his. Bernie does not initiate the bills himself; he just critiques the bills of his Democratic colleagues and forces mild concessions he can hold up as trophies—rather like Don Junior posing with the tail of a slain lion. Writing bills—that is, coming up with and then implementing viable policy—is hard work, after all, and the guy who was kicked out of a commune for not doing his fair share, who didn’t have a real job until he was 40, who has a whopping seven bills to his name in 30 years in Washington, has always been lazy. Bernie views actual governance the same way he views unruly hair—he will only tend to it if absolutely necessary.

A gander at the campaign staff of Bernie Sanders reveals a motley collection of trolls, shit-stirrers, and provocateurs, most of whom voted for Jill Stein in 2016—unrepentant loudmouths who routinely support protest candidates. None of these people are interested in formulating complex and coherent policy. His supporters on Capitol Hill suck up the most oxygen but produce the least amount of work. And his surrogates are among the most credulous and woo-woo the country can find. Yes, a vocal minority of Democratic voters dig him, but it is my contention that most people who support Bernie are really supporting the idea of Bernie—those shiny progressive talking points—rather than the man himself.

We should take a minute here to talk about who exactly Bernie and his zealots are bashing, when they impugn the “Democratic establishment.” Nancy Pelosi, the greatest anti-Trump warrior we have, who as Speaker helped pass the Affordable Care Act, is the Democratic establishment. Adam Schiff, who nobly conducted the impeachment trial against Donald John Trump, is Democratic establishment. Hillary Clinton is Democratic establishment. So is Barack Obama. Joe Biden is as Democratic establishment as Democratic establishment gets—which is why a Biden presidency, despite his age and occasionally spotty Congressional record, would unquestionably be a success. Joe would select his staff from the deepest and most impressive pool of political talent on earth. Bernie might make Tulsi Gabbard Secretary of State, for all we know—if the recent heart attack victim who will be 79 on Election Day doesn’t tap the lunatic cult member as VP.

Happily, and despite what the media would like to believe, the race is far from over. It takes 1991 delegates to win the Democratic nomination. After two low-turnout caucuses and a primary in one of the smallest, whitest states in the Union, Bernie Sanders has won 34 delegates, leaving him 1957 short of the necessary total. With a victory in South Carolina on 29 February, and a strong showing on Super Tuesday, Joe Biden—which is to say, the Democratic establishment—will be right back on top.

Bernie has always been, and will forever be, the Opposition Faction. Another word for that is: loser.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont speaking at a town meeting at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.