Darrell Delamaide's Political Capital: Sanders would be a shoo-in for 2020 if not for his age

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — Bernie Sanders will be 79 on Election Day in 2020. But for that, the most popular politician in the country would be a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination for president and a heavy favorite to win the election.

The Vermont independent has not stopped rallying the masses just because he lost the Democratic nomination in 2016 to Hillary Clinton.

“The waves of howling applause and standing ovations rolled in at the appointed times,” is the way CNN’s Gregory Krieg described Sanders’s appearance at the June People’s Summit in Chicago. “The lines that stirred the faithful in 2016 as potent at the outset of the Trump era as during a grueling Democratic primary contest that saw Sen. Bernie Sanders finish as its defiant runner-up.”

But, Krieg continued, “Even among devoted supporters here, his age…is a prevailing area of concern.”

Columnist Brent Budowsky has no trouble explaining Sanders’s popularity. “The first reason is that the progressive populist agenda championed by Sanders offers the most appealing options for the future of the nation,” Budowsky wrote in a contribution for CNBC. “When Sanders supports a tuition-free public college education for young people, when he calls for aggressive action to combat climate change, when he champions civil rights and human rights for all Americans, and when he calls for Medicare for all, he is speaking for far more voters than Trump and Republicans.”

Sanders is cagey about his plans for 2020, but shades his statements enough that he may be leaning toward not running himself, but would like to be a kingmaker, crowning the nominee, much as Ted Kennedy did for Barack Obama in 2008.

“I would say that we intend to play a role in the 2020 election,” Sanders told CNN during a brief interview at that June summit. “What that is remains to be decided.” He added that anyone interested in running should not step back, regardless of whether the Vermont senator runs.

Perhaps godfather would be a more apt title, since Sanders has given birth to a movement that is pulling the Democratic Party from the centrist moorings of the Clintons and their camp.

But the Clintonites who are now talking the progressive talk — Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker — lack the authenticity of a Sanders. Nor, with their focus on fundraising among rich donors, are they walking the walk, but rather following in Clinton’s footsteps.

Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti tips Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, the only Senate colleague to endorse Sanders last year, as the dark horse progressive who might make the run. Merkley is “taking far more advanced steps toward a potential bid than is widely recognized,” Debenedetti wrote this week.

It’s hard to imagine, though, that the colorless Merkley, starting as a virtual unknown, would be able to fire up voters nationwide.

Which is why attention inevitably returns to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who can fire up crowds and whose progressive credentials are almost as sterling as those of Sanders.

“Almost,” because Warren was too calculating in the 2016 campaign, throwing her support with the establishment candidate. Had she lent her firepower to Sanders’s candidacy instead of playing attack dog for Clinton, it might have been enough to tip the scale for his nomination. By now, it should be clear to everyone that Sanders would have beaten Trump in the general election.

The question is not so much whether Sanders’s supporters can forgive Warren, but whether they can ever trust her again. Then there is the age thing. Warren will be 71 on Election Day in 2020, and at that point why not go for the septuagenarian candidate who is indubitably the real thing.

So that is the Sanders conundrum. He has inspired a movement that reaches across age, class, race, and even party. But it is a movement that Sanders alone — with his combination of radical progressivism and personal authenticity — has the charisma to lead.

At the June summit in Chicago, Sanders tried to shift the attention away from himself to the ideas he is championing. “Not Bernie, it is you,” he told the crowd. With rhetorical flourish, repeating three times “There is no question,” Sanders said, “We have won the battle of ideas.”

That may be true, but presidential campaigns still need a larger-than-life individual to present those ideas to voters.

So perhaps Sanders should run in 2020, no matter how old he is. He has a vigor and a stamina that many younger people could envy.

All he needs to do to reassure voters is pick a good vice president. Some worthy progressive, like Merkel, or even better, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, who could not win a national campaign on their own.

Sanders crowed at the People’s Summit that “we” are going to make the political revolution. If it is to prevail in 2020, “he” may have to lead it.

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