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.