Sen. Bernie Sanders, the self-described democratic socialist who waged a surprisingly competitive race against Hillary Clinton by championing progressive policy goals such as Medicare for all, will make another run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.
Sanders on Tuesday announced a second White House bid, saying one of his primary motivations is to oust President Donald Trump, who beat Clinton in that election.
“I think the current occupant of the White House is an embarrassment to our country,” Sanders said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio. “I think he is a pathological liar. Every day he is telling one lie or another, and it gives me no pleasure to say that. I also think he is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, somebody who is gaining cheap political points by trying to pick on minorities, often undocumented immigrants.”
Sanders, 77, upended the party establishment three years ago by siphoning support from Democrats’ liberal wing and young people, touching off a leftist movement that ushered progressives like freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into office in the November midterm elections. Critics argued his stronger-than-expected challenge to Clinton arguably weakened her ultimately unsuccessful general election candidacy against Trump.
Sanders starts his 2020 campaign with a long list of potential advantages, not the least of which include a massive email list of supporters, a proven track record of small-dollar fundraising and veteran aides who helped chart a path to victory in key states like New Hampshire.
But 2020 will be a very different campaign cycle. Many former Sanders supporters and aides are looking at other options in a diverse field of Democrats that could top 20 well-known names. Several Democrats already are echoing his economic message at a time when the party is increasingly relying on a voting base made up of women, minorities and young people.
“Bernie Sanders has already won the debate in the Democrat primary, because every candidate is embracing his brand of socialism,” Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, said in a statement Tuesday. “But the American people will reject an agenda of sky-high tax rates, government-run health care and coddling dictators like those in Venezuela.”
In a year when Democratic voters have signaled a increased desire for racial and gender diversity, Sanders would be only the second straight, white man in the field.
“This is a very different campaign for a lot of reasons. That’s certainly one of them,” Sanders said referring to the fact that at least several candidates have embraced parts of his agenda. “The other reason is last time I ran against one candidate — Secretary Clinton. This time there may be 10, 15, 20 candidates so that makes it a very, very different campaign with a different set of challenges.”
Sanders’s announcement comes after progressive groups launched an effort to encourage him to run by holding nationwide house parties to demonstrate the strength of his support following his last campaign.
Despite coming up short against Clinton, the Vermont independent won about 13 million votes in Democratic primaries and caucuses on a platform criticizing economic inequality and what he described as the greed of Wall Street, shifting Democrats to the left. Sanders popularized the term “democratic socialist” and made progressive policy dreams like government-funded universal health care and tuition-free public college more mainstream within the party.
His 2016 campaign also rejected the use of super-PACs — super political action committees — and instead relied on small-dollar donations. After telling supporters during his New Hampshire primary victory speech that the average donation to his campaign was $27, the amount became rallying cry for his backers.
The question is whether Sanders will be able to recreate that excitement around this campaign, while also broadening his base beyond millennials and progressives. While his 2016 campaign, run under the slogan “A Future to Believe In,” served as a liberal alternative to Clinton’s more centrist platform, several younger candidates have entered the 2020 race championing similar policy goals.
Support for Medicare for all, in particular, has become a litmus test for left-leaning Democratic presidential hopefuls. Sanders’ Medicare for All Act of 2017, introduced in the last Congress, had 16 co-sponsors, including Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kamala Harris of California, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Warren, Harris, Booker, Gillibrand and Cory Booker of New Jersey already have begun bids for the nomination, as has Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Several other high-profile Democrats are said to be considering entering the race as well. Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, former Rep. John Delaney and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also have begun campaigns.
Amid the #MeToo movement and the record number of female candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, Sanders has had to grapple with multiple reports that women who worked on his 2016 campaign faced sexual harassment and wage disparities.
Sanders apologized to the women and said that while he was proud of the work his campaign had done to “defend the needs of working families,” the standards and safeguards put in place by the campaign were inadequate.
“What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign or any campaign should be about,” Sanders said at a news conference in January.
His campaign will also have to address lingering anger between his supporters and supporters of Clinton, who blame Sanders’s extended primary campaign for hurting her in the general election. Though Sanders campaigned for Clinton in key states after his primary loss, he’s still setting himself up as a foe of the political establishment on both sides of the aisle.
“Our agenda terrifies the political and financial establishment of this country,” Sanders said in a Dec. 27 fundraising email. “But the truth is, their agenda should terrify all of us.”
Sanders has used to his higher profile to target larger corporations over low wages and poor working conditions. In September, Sanders introduced the Stop BEZOS Act which would tax large companies, such as Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.com Inc., whose employees receive government social services. A month later he praised Bezos for raising the company’s minimum wage for U.S. employees.
“It is absurd that the taxpayers of this country have to subsidize the wealthiest person on Earth, who happens to be Mr. Bezos, because so many of his workers made wages that were so low that they were forced to go on food stamps and Medicaid,” Sanders told CNN. “So I applaud Jeff Bezos today for raising the minimum wage at Amazon.”
The first major test of the Sanders movement came in 2018, when several progressive candidates made policies backed by Sanders a central part of their campaign. While many Sanders backed candidates lost — either to moderate Democrats in primaries or Republicans in the general election — some progressives made it to Congress.
The most prominent Sanders supporter elected in 2018 was Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old bartender who worked on Sanders’s New York campaign and defeated a 10-term Democratic incumbent in June.
Sanders was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. During his 2016 campaign he said his modest upbringing in a “three and a half room rent-controlled apartment” helped shape his platform and economic worldview. Sanders attended the University of Chicago, where he was involved in civil rights advocacy and arrested for protesting housing segregation.
After graduating, Sanders spent time on a kibbutz in Israel before settling down in Vermont in 1968. He worked as a journalist and carpenter before beginning his political career with four failed bids for statewide office under the Liberty Union Party.
In 1981, he was elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont by a margin of 10 votes. After four two-year terms as mayor, Sanders ran for the state’s sole House seat in 1990. He was elected to the Senate in 2006.
In 2010, Sanders spent 8.5 hours on the Senate floor filibustering President Barack Obama’s deal with congressional Republicans to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
Sanders was previously the chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee and is now the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. He was also a founding member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991. In 2017, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer made him chairman for outreach in the 115th Congress.
Sanders told Vermont residents Tuesday that as he campaigns around the country for his second presidential bid he will “take the values that all of us in Vermont are proud of — a belief in justice, in community, in grassroots politics, in town meetings — that’s what I’m going to carry all over this country.”
—With assistance from Terrence Dopp, Derek Wallbank and Kathleen Hunter.
— Read Take Single-Payer Health Care Proposals Seriously: Sally Pipes,, on ThinkAdvisor.