Bernie Sanders’ campaign is a rousing success. He’s drawing huge — sorry, youuuuuge — crowds, he’s smashed expectations for fundraising, and he’s making noise in select polls.
None of which makes him a serious contender for the Democratic nomination. He still trails badly in national polls. And the dynamics of the primary system have shifted in favor of the frontrunner: an underdog can compete in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but then the primaries come fast and furious, and you need a strong national organization (and a youuuuuge amount of money) to stay competitive. Even lackluster frontrunners like John Kerry and Mitt Romney can use their “inevitability” to steamroll their opponents. Hillary generates a lot more enthusiasm than either of those legacy admissions.
So no, Bernie’s not winning the nomination. But he has already won a very important victory: he has shown the potential for game-changing enthusiasm on the Left. After Bernie, the Democratic Party will have a harder time taking the Left for granted.
Ever since the 1980s and the rise of the Christian Right, the Republican Party has had to take its right wing seriously. This trend has accelerated in recent years with Congressmen and Senators fearing conservative challenges in their artfully gerrymandered districts, and presidential candidates kowtowing to Tea Partiers who can swing primary elections.
Through all those years, there’s never been anything similar in Democratic politics. There were transitory phenomena like the Kucinich boomlet and the Occupy movement, but nothing of lasting import. “Conventional wisdom” taught that Democrats needed to triangulate and fight for the center (while taking left-wing voters for granted).
Bernie Sanders has shown that the left can be just as dynamic and politically useful as the Tea Party or the Bible-pounders. When he launched his presidential bid, I thought the most he could hope for was to be a useful goad to Hillary Clinton, forcing her to pay a little lip service to his issues before tacking back to her comfort zone in the center. But the Bernie phenomenon should make the Democratic Party rethink its blithe dismissal of its left wing, and realize that they have a powerful resource at their disposal — if only they pay some real, honest attention to their left.