Among the winners in yesterday’s primary contest was Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders easily captured the Democratic nomination for his Senate seat, which he then declined. He’ll be running as an independent with the endorsement of the Democratic party, just as he did in his past two Senate campaigns.
The same day as his victory, Sanders appeared on Stephen Colbert’s show, where he pointedly did not rule out running again for president in 2020. Instead, Sanders relied upon that old standby that it’s “too early to be talking about 2020.”
While the focus on Democrats is the potential for a blue wave that will return them to control in Congress, Sanders’ flirtation with another campaign underscores just how much this year’s midterm eletions are about the presidential campaign.
Or more accurately, the presidential campaigns: 2016 and 2020.
As a party, the Democrats haven’t coalesced around a policy consensus, except in abstract terms: healthcare is good, attacking immigrants is bad, the working and middle classes are getting a raw deal. But as the 2016 contest between Sanders and Hillary Clinton demonstrated, there is a deep rift within the party on just how to tackle those problems.
That applies to LGBTQ issues as well. Sanders got into a very public spat with HRC over its endorsement of Clinton, tarring the organization as, in his words, part of “the establishment” that he was running against.
All of those divisions are currently forgotten as Democrats are heady with the prospects of success this fall. But Sanders return to the stump as a presidential contender will bring them to the fore again.
Moreover, it’s not likely to be just Sanders. At 76, the senator is pushing the limits, even for a party with an aging leadership. No doubt the field of candidates will include others who will also position themselves as mavericks trying to break the hold of establishment Democrats.
So Democrats should enjoy their moment of giddiness while they can. Once the election is over, blue wave or not, presidential campaigning will begin in earnest. It promises not to be a pretty picture.