While what little mainstream press coverage his campaign has received has usually been negative, it often feels like the U.S. press has decided to ignore Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign altogether. At times, the unwillingness to cover the candidate has been a little absurd, as the supposedly ‘liberal’ cable news network MSNBC has at times put Sanders behind other candidates in onscreen rankings, even when the numbers displayed showed him ahead.
Further demonstrating this seeming media black out, when Bernie did a rally with another popular progressive, New York’s Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in Venice Beach, California on December 21st, despite 14,000 people showing up, the local paper of record, the Los Angeles Times, didn’t cover it. It’s often difficult to square the circle of the enthusiasm we see at the Vermont Senator’s events and the dismissal his campaign receives from mainstream sources.
At the same time, it should also be noted that, although he’s more popular and better known, Sanders hasn’t been alone among the candidates in the Democratic primary field in receiving very little attention from the press. There are two other candidates who draw in what sometimes appear more like devoted fan bases than political supporters in the traditional sense, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang, both of whom, if for very different reasons, have also struggled to get coverage.
Leaving her revealing, some might say cynical, political choice to answer “present” rather than voting to impeach the current U.S. president aside, Gabbard only seems to get into the news cycle when she’s attacked, as when Hillary Clinton made a veiled reference to her possibly making a third party run as ‘Russia’s candidate’ in 2020, a dangerously stupid charge to make about a sitting Congresswoman, let alone a still serving member of the U.S. military.
At the same time, for most of the last year, much of the U.S. media chased after one centrist candidate after another, often in the seeming hope of creating some excitement for the same old establishment politics that many on the left believe made it possible for a reality TV star to become the president of the world’s most powerful country in the first place.
First and arguably, most laughably, there was Beto O’Rourke, who launched his campaign with a gushing cover story in Vanity Fair that must seem embarrassing to all involved now, then Kamala Harris, whose record as California’s top cop couldn’t stand up to scrutiny, then Elizabeth Warren, whose healthcare proposal has been a flop, and now Pete Buttigieg, who is already seeing the deflation of his short lived ‘surge’, especially after a petulant performance in the last debate on December 19th in Los Angeles.
The most disappointing of these candidates for American progressives has to be Senator Warren, who sounded too much like a typical centrist Democrat in insisting at an earlier debate that her Medicare for All plan won’t result in higher taxes for the American middle class. Senator Sanders has wisely told the truth about this, while emphasizing that American taxpayers will no longer have to pay a private company for their insurance and the co-pays and deductibles that usually come with it, leading to an overall savings for all working people in the country even with slightly higher taxes factored in.
Worse, once Warren’s actual plan became public, it showed that no attempt will be made to implement actual M4A until the 3rd year of her presidency, problematic when one considers that this will be right after the midterm elections that in recent times have produced successes for the party in opposition.
Having said this, while Warren’s polling, both in early primary states and nationally has declined from its peak, the Massachusetts senator is still sitting comfortably in 3rd place in most polls and is well above the 5% she was at when she entered the race. Warren may also have found a very powerful friend and possible endorser in former President Barack Obama, who must understand the importance of turning out the progressive vote in 2020 and who, despite differences they’ve had in the past, has reportedly said positive things about her in private meetings with wealthy donors in recent weeks.
In hindsight, the lack of coverage of the Sanders campaign has turned out to be something of a blessing. Although there are many differences between the two, both as people and politicians, under the bright lights of being the leader of the UK opposition, Jeremy Corbyn faced an onslaught of attacks, up to and including reports that UK intelligence agencies circulated stories implying they viewed him as a threat to the country’s national security. By the time of last months UK election, Corbyn’s disapproval rating was above 70%.
Besides, flying mostly under the mainstream, corporate radar has allowed Senator Sanders to build a movement unlike anything seen since the time of Eugene Debs without corporatist journalists, pundits and politicians trying to undermine it. Just one small result of this has been the $34.5 million raised in three months from the more than 5 million donations and counting to the campaign as of the end of the last quarter, which ended on December 31st.
Another important result for the campaign has been bringing in supporters who are demonstrably more loyal to the candidate than others are to their initial picks in the primaries.
As reported by the Des Moines Register, “Sanders’ supporters are least likely of frontrunners’ supporters to say they could be persuaded to vote for someone else in the Feb. 3, 2020, [Iowa] caucuses. Of likely Democratic caucusgoers who say Sanders is their top choice, 57% say their mind is made up; none of other top candidates cracks 30% in that metric.”
As many of the candidates who received glowing press coverage become irrelevant and drop out of the race, it appears more and more likely that it will come down to Sanders and Biden as the primaries progress, although Senator Warren remains a wild card.
Even David Brock, a Hillary Clinton loyalist, said as much when interviewed by Politico, “It may have been inevitable that eventually you would have two candidates representing each side of the ideological divide in the party. A lot of smart people I’ve talked to lately think there’s a very good chance those two end up being Biden and Sanders. They’ve both proven to be very resilient.”
If this is the thinking of people like Brock, we can likely expect a flood of negative press attention of Sanders and perhaps some of those attached to his campaign. The next debate, to be held in Iowa on January 14th, might give us more of an idea of what Sanders will face both from the media and other candidates.
One avenue of attack may be foreign policy, and it seems likely the candidate will face questions about his views on Venezuela and possibly, Bolivia, who are sure to be used as examples of the evils of ‘socialism’. His expressed admiration decades ago for Cuba’s legitimate accomplishments in terms of education and healthcare is also likely to be trotted out at some point, as it was during 2016.
While these views will offend much of the establishment, most of those who vote in American primaries usually seem more focused on domestic issues than foreign policy, so there is a good chance that if this becomes the line of attack on the Vermont senator it may be ineffective in cutting into his support.
In the months ahead, those who support Sanders will have to be vigilant in replying to the attacks that are sure to come. One strength that the Vermont senator has is a decades-long record of consistency in terms of his politics and a laser-like focus on policy that makes it very hard to create the kind of ‘gotcha’ moments so beloved of the U.S. press, especially when it comes to those on the progressive left.