Bernie Sanders in ’16?

Vermont’s self-identified “democratic socialist” Senator announced in Iowa on Sunday that he’s considering seeking the seat of the bully pulpit. Such a move would be the first time since the 1920 campaign of Eugene V. Debs that an openly socialist candidate with elected experience would have pitched a bid to pursue the highest office in America.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at The New Populism Conference.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at The New Populism Conference.

The infamous Vermont firebrand, famous for going after the Koch Brothers, Wall Street, and the “billionaire class”, is now serving his 2nd term in the Senate. Originally an outspoken agitator for socialism and active third party member, he started off under the small Liberty Union party label, a socialist party based out of Vermont, where he mounted a number of runs for statewide office in the 70s with minimal success. At the turn of the decade, he absolved himself of party labels and set his sights on the mayoralty of Burlington. There he was elected, numerous times, and proceeded to work his way through the ranks, becoming the state’s lone congressman, and later one of its two senators.

While Hillary Clinton has yet to officially declare her candidacy for the Presidency, the tea leaves read that she’s a candidate in every aspect except name only. To date, no serious candidate has materialized to challenge the would-be political heavyweight, with many seeing 2016 as “her time” to be the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer. However, a sizable contingency remains skeptical of her ability to deliver the mantle of the commander-in-chief to the Democratic Party, as well as a general concern with policies she would enact once in office, leaving ample room for a candidate like Sanders to make a splash.

As a Democrat, early polling shows Sanders as a long-shot, but his placement could very easily change. With a recent dissatisfaction with Clinton, a general unease with policies in the Obama administration, and an increasing disdain for both parties in Washington, he could very well play a role similar to that of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012, or Howard Dean in 2004, and directly appeal to those disenfranchised with the current political system. Furthermore, those who feel Clinton isn’t progressive enough could find a home in candidate Sanders, which could antagonize Clinton up until the convention.

For Bernie, he’s looking to do much more than just shake up the race- he’s looking to win. Last Sunday, at the “Politics on Tap” conference in Washington D.C., Sanders made it clear he’s looking to do more than be a spoiler. “If I run, I will run to win”, he said. Such a statement implies that Sanders is seriously looking to run within the constructs of the Democratic Party, and such a decision would definitely not be without merit.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.
Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

While various news reports will continue to claim that Sanders could mount a bid as a Democrat, an independent, or both, the truth of the matter is it’s not really that simple. The American political system is a complex puzzle, constructed from the various states and their individual laws governing the electoral system. As a result, Sanders would be forced to decide between one of the two options if he aims to make a realistic attempt, as each state has different thresholds for what it takes to be on the November ballot, and some incorporate “sore loser” laws. For example, Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and the Libertarian Party’s 2012 nominee for president, was kept off of the ballot in Michigan, as he appeared on it as a candidate for the Republican presidential primary earlier in that year.

To further complicate issues, America hasn’t had an independent president since the days of Washington, and there’s a legitimate reason for this. For an independent Sanders, he would start off with the immediate disadvantage of having to organize an effective electoral apparatus in each state, and would most likely have to rely purely on grassroots support. Such problems have plagued numerous candidates in the past, bogging them down with legal battles and signature petitions. An independent Sanders could utilize preexisting ballot lines, such as those of the Peace and Freedom Party, Socialist Party, or Green Party, but, once again, it ultimately comes down to the decision of such individual state parties.

Photo originally from the the Huffington Post.
Photo originally from the Huffington Post.

It is unclear the ultimate extent that an independent Sanders would have on the November race, but it’s accepted that a Sanders run would be a challenge from the left, which would easily siphon hard numbers and funding from Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic nominee. Furthermore, a Sanders challenge could possibly force Clinton to make a leftward shift in her positions, which could shake her appeal to more independent voters.

This also isn’t the first time that Sanders has flirted with the idea of running for President. Earlier this year, Sanders proposed the notion that he was mulling a run, and was met with harsh criticism from another third-party icon of the American left. Ralph Nader, five-time presidential candidate and face of American leftist politics, blasted Sanders on his perceived lack of correspondence and unwillingness to work with him in encouraging progressive policies, calling him a “lone ranger”.

In all of Sander’s ambiguity, it can be hard to pin down what he’s ultimately going to do, but what is for certain is that regardless of the path he takes, he’s going to be the first shake-up of many on the road to 2016.

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