There is something of a ring to the sound of independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. It’s always been a convenient way of setting him apart from the rest of the scrum within the Democratic Party. Sure, he caucuses with the Democrats, but the Vermont senator is an independent-thinking democratic socialist who’ll blaze his own trail to the White House.
Unless, of course, it means getting himself closer to the Democratic presidential nomination. Then he’s definitely a Democrat.
See, the Democratic National Committee announced earlier this week it would be asking 2020 presidential candidates to sign a piece of paper affirming they are, in fact, Democrats.
“Candidates who have officially announced their candidacy will have a week to return a signed copy of the affirmation form to the DNC,” an official with the DNC said, according to the Washington Examiner.
“As any additional candidates enter the race, they will be provided with the same information and will be required to return the form in the same time frame,” the official said.
This was part of a rules change after the 2016 nominating process, officially intended to address complaints that it was opaque and unfair. However, to make the process fairer and more open, the DNC now requires potential nominees to “be a bona fide Democrat” and “affirm in writing” that they are.
Given that there’s only one independent candidate who had the foreseeable possibility of winning the Democratic nomination, it’s pretty clear whom the rules change targeted.
If Sanders had wanted a showdown, this certainly would have been the moment for it. While the Bernie partisans might not have had a place at the table when the rule was conceived by the DNC establishment, they certainly do now.
He’s been second to former Vice President Joe Biden in almost every poll of Democratic 2020 hopefuls, and by a fairly wide margin. His campaign raised $5.9 million in its first 24 hours, easily besting all the other announced candidates. No one else in the Democratic field has a core group of supporters as rabid and politically active as Sanders does.
What were the Democrats going to do if he didn’t sign the document? What if he said that his relationship with the party was a more nuanced one than the document demanded? Democrats have already had several coronaries over Howard Schultz’s incipient independent campaign. Were they really going to risk an independent run by Sanders? Were they really going to kick him out?
Well, they needn’t worry: CNN reported Thursday that Sanders will end up signing the document, at least according to senior campaign adviser Jeff Weaver.
This really ought to put to bed just how “independent” Sanders really is.
It’s not like the evidence wasn’t already there. According to ProPublica, he votes 93 percent of the time with Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, 91 percent with Sen. Cory Booker, 94 percent of the time with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and 77 percent with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
This isn’t recent behavior, either. During his time in the House of Representatives in the 1990s, he voted with the party more often than the average Democrat did, according to PolitiFact.
And it’s not just in the presidential race that Sanders runs as a Democrat. He also runs in Vermont’s Democrat primary elections in order to preclude any challenge from someone running under the party’s banner. When he wins, he simply declines the nomination. It’s not like the party is averse to him doing this, either. In fact, the Democrats have actively promoted it.
Take this inspiring answer to why he was running as a Democrat that Sanders gave during a 2016 town hall: “I just happen to believe that in this moment of history, given the crises that we face, it is too late for establishment politics and establishment economics,” he said, according to The Hill. “We concluded — and I think it was absolutely the right decision, that … in terms of media coverage — you have to run within the Democratic Party.”
But, as FiveThirtyEight noted during the 2016 campaign process, Sanders did extremely well among those who identified as political independents — one of the key reasons he was able to hang with a significantly better-funded Hillary Clinton campaign. Part of that, no doubt, is the fact that he’s supposed to be one of them, one of two senators who officially identify as independent. It’s a good hook — a socialist fighting the establishment from the left, beholden to no one.
It’s all illusory, however. As if Sanders’ three houses weren’t enough evidence this guy wasn’t the most dedicated socialist in the world, he’s more Democrat than many Democrats are. Where he hasn’t been, the party has come to meet him.
If Sanders wanted to fight these rules, all he had to do was refuse to sign. After all, unlike future independents who might object to signing a document pledging fealty to the party, Sanders has clout. He chose not to use it for a simple reason: He’s a Democrat. He’s always been a Democrat and always will be a Democrat. The “I” next to his name is merely a handy marketing device that ultimately means nothing.
The Conservative Tribune has reached out to the Sanders campaign for comment but has not yet received a response. We will update this article if and when we do.