Our spring issue, “Pandemic Politics,” is out now. Get a discounted subscription today!

Why Are They So Mad at Bernie Supporters?

Democratic Party liberals got what they wanted in a Joe Biden nomination for president — and yet they’ve never been more contemptuous of Bernie Sanders supporters.

Former vice president Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, pauses during a primary-night rally in Columbia, South Carolina, on Feb. 29, 2020. Sam Wolfe / Bloomberg via Getty

Joe Biden wrapped up the nomination on April 8, the day Sanders dropped out. And many prominent liberals celebrated the coronation of the man promising to bring their big ideas back to the White House by logging on and scolding his defeated rival’s most ardent supporters.

“This is the death throes of a movement, happening in real-time,” said Markos Moulitsas, co-founder of Vox and founder of Daily Kos. “Perhaps ‘organizing outside of electoral politics’ might have something to do with an inability to, you know, win elections?”

“These are not ‘left-wing’ voters,” tweeted MSNBC’s Joy Reid. “They are privileged white voters who demand to be bowed down to, no different than [how] Trump’s voters want those who are not white and Christian to take the knee for them.”

And they went after not only Sanders supporters, but two of his most visible campaign staffers — press secretary Briahna Joy Gray and senior adviser David Sirota.

“Good thing Sirota will never be hired again,” tweeted Brad Bauman, the former executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Sad that some thought him brilliant in the first place.”

“Makes for good for lots retweets [sic],” Keith Edwards, a Bloomberg campaign staffer, said of Gray’s defiant attitude, “bad for a political career. Good luck!”

Others, perhaps nervously eyeing November matchup polls between Biden and Trump, began to wring their hands about radical Bernie Bro saboteurs in their midst who threatened to hand reelection to the president.

“Important to recognize that Biden’s party unity problem is going to be driven by Berniesphere media — Chapo, Jacobin, Current Affairs, Bruenigs,” Matt Yglesias of Vox tweeted, “rather than by Bernie personally.”

It’s a summary of a short post by Yglesias which begins by arguing that this disunity “will be a real problem for [Biden’s] campaign,” but concludes:

Rather than spend time on a likely fruitless effort to court the left, Biden might want to accept that he’s going to take a lot of crap from the Berniesphere no matter what he does and just lean into his moderate brand.

The Left matters. But also they don’t. Confused? Here’s why — because the Democratic Party commentariat is also very confused.

“You’ll Get Nothing and Like It!”

They think they don’t need the Berniecrat left in order to win. But they’re not sure. In fact, they’re a little nervous. Add that to the fact that none of them are very enthusiastic about Joe Biden, a candidate who excites them considerably less than Hillary Clinton did, and you’re left with some antsy media liberals.

They got what they thought they wanted — a defeated Sanders. And yet they’re not at all happy about it. Which means, just as they did after Clinton’s loss to Trump, they’re already lining up the scapegoats.

To this day, Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, and even Bernie Sanders — despite not running third party — have been widely blamed for Democratic defeats. And that blame-game is already revving up for 2020. At this point, it’s a two-decade tradition for liberals, even though the Libertarian Gary Johnson’s 3 percent of the vote in 2016 — to say nothing of Ross Perot or John Anderson — was more than any left-wing spoiler has received in almost a hundred years.

But Sanders is nothing like a Green Party candidate. Not only has he heartily campaigned for the Democratic nominee, he and his program have a mass, durable base of tens of millions proven now over two primaries. And yet from watching the Biden campaign unfold as the standard bearer of the 2020 Democratic Party, you’d never know it.

It’s not exactly a mystery as to what Sanders voters are after — jobs, health care, and higher ed for all with higher taxes on capital to pay for it. If Biden switched gears and began campaigning hard on even a compromised version of this program instead of “China!” he would have little problem winning over the vast majority of Sanders supporters — and likely a considerable number of nonvoters, too.

If Biden did the unthinkable and suddenly embraced Medicare for All — a considerably less wild idea amid a pandemic and a $2 trillion spending package — he might even get them out into swing-states knocking on doors.

Instead, in the face of Biden’s abysmal record, we’re given the same dashed-off bullet points buried deep on a campaign website. The genius of this approach is that Democrats can disarm troublesome left-liberal voices in the Discourse by shooting over a URL without their candidate ever having to publicly run on — and thus promise — any of these things (some of them quite good) to the general electorate. A promise buried on a website is one that certainly doesn’t need to be kept.

It’s not exactly a mystery as to what’s going on. But a lot of well-paid writers are going to try and convince you otherwise. Earlier this week, on the same day that the New York Times published Michelle Goldberg’s op-ed entitled “A Biden Presidency Could Be Better Than Progressives Think,” they reported elsewhere on their website that Erskine Bowles — of the Simpson-Bowles commission to cut Social Security — just hosted yet another Biden fundraiser.

We’ll continue to hear a lot about this “most progressive campaign platform in a generation” all summer, even as the actual message sounds more like the Judge from Caddyshack: “You’ll get nothing and like it!”

We’re Stuck With Them — But They’re Stuck With Us, Too

It’s a shame. If Discourse Liberals could log off for a bit and take a look at much of the Berniecrat set, they’d discover this new generation of radicals is much more interested in taking power than in maintaining ideological purity.

In the brief moment of time in which it seemed quite possible Sanders just might somehow win the Democratic Party nomination, a writer for this very outlet proposed that Sanders select Sen. Tammy Baldwin as his running mate. Some of our readers were alarmed by the suggestion, as Baldwin — while a Medicare-for-All supporter — is neither a socialist nor an anti-establishment bomb-thrower.

But Kalewold’s logic was simple: in a general election, Sanders would need “more than the masses to enact his agenda. Despite the wild popularity of Sanders among its voters, the Democratic Party shows no signs of becoming the willing agent of any kind of social-democratic ‘political revolution’ … Uniting the party after the primary cycle is over will require concessions.”

It was a sober recognition that, like it or not, the Left was far from being able to go it alone and would need the massive institution of the Democratic Party on its side first to beat Trump then to enact even a fraction of its agenda. We might not like them or trust them — but, for now, we need them.

Sanders did not win. But, once again, he more than proved he represents a dedicated and fervent ideological force. Perhaps a plurality of Democratic voters. Back in December 2018, Markos Moulitsas tweeted “Bernie won’t get more than 12% once the field shapes up. Likely single digits,” saying that there were “too few Bernie dead-enders left.” In January 2019, MSNBC’s Jason Johnson predicted that Bernie would be out of the race by August.

They were wrong. Sanders once again came in second place, this time beating out half a dozen candidates who benefited from all the best party advisors, funders, and media hype, including progressive establishment darling Elizabeth Warren, who failed to win a single contest and came in third place in her own home state.

Berniecrats Are the Future of the Democratic Party — And That Really Pisses Off Some Liberals

It’s time for liberals to make up their minds — if the hard left can swing an American election, then they should bring them to the table and start cutting deals. If they are powerful enough to force the establishment — after having exhausted every other option — into rapidly coalescing around a candidate who deeply embarrasses them, then they’re powerful enough for some major concessions.

But if they’re so marginal as to have zero effect in November, then Democrats should spare us the bleating about Bernie Bro sabotage and instead take a look in the mirror as they find themselves up against another intransigent GOP monster in just a few short years.

It’s an open secret that in Biden, these Democrats did not get what they wanted. In fact, that’s the core of Trump’s effective new ad — needling them on this fact. And maybe this explains liberal media temper-tantrums about Sanders supporters — they know we were right. And worse, despite how hard they look, they can’t see a genuinely transformative future — one that can tackle the crises of health care, climate, and inequality — without the Berniecrats leading the charge.

Those voters are now clearly a major and durable force in American politics — dominating all those under forty-five as well as Latinos, a booming demographic that liberals otherwise champion as “the future of America” (just not when they’re voting the wrong way).

But no matter what happens in the fall, I doubt we’ll be hearing the end of this fretting about the dissident left. That’s the trouble of a party who unites almost solely on what they are not — they look in the mirror and can’t even tell you what they see.

And with an existential crisis like that gnawing away at them, they’ll take any chance to look away — to find someone else to blame. In other words, the dreaded Bernie Bro will continue to haunt them. They wouldn’t want it any other way.