Faced with elimination from the Democratic primary on Super Tuesday, Bernie Sanders instead piled up enough victories to fight on. So it’s a good moment to reflect on a campaign that also far exceeded the wildest hopes of even the candidate himself and his advisers.
A bid launched with little fanfare, no hype, and below-zero expectations from political handicappers has turned instead into a surprisingly potent popular movement. It’s propelled him to a historically huge win in New Hampshire against Hillary Clinton — one that, briefly, struck fear into the hearts of the Clinton machine and its affiliates in the Democratic establishment — and tonight scored four additional victories. The Clinton camp these days nevertheless believe they are amassing a delegate lead that will be tough for Sanders to overcome. But the candidate can already claim to have made an indelible impact on the conversation.
At the heart of Sanders’ unlikely appeal has been his pledge to confront corporate power that he argues has entrenched itself in government to help rig a game that working people now can’t win. Plenty of observers note the similarities between his corporatist critique with the populist platform Republican frontrunner Donald Trump is using to reach a similar demographic. They appear to be tapping into the same animus, even using some of the same language, warping the traditional left-right parameters of the policy debate in the process.
But while Sanders’ bid has catapulted him onto a national platform he’d never remotely approached in his previous quarter-century in Washington, the self-described Democratic Socialist has long advocated positions that gave him common cause with the ideological fringe across the aisle. Take this Fortune story from six years ago. It details how the early stirrings of a populist surge, post-financial crisis, was breathing new life into another unlikely meeting of the minds. This one featured Sanders and libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a gadfly regular in GOP presidential primaries. The two had long teamed up in Congress to wage assaults on corporate welfare that went nowhere. But when they partnered on a bill to force the Federal Reserve to submit to an audit, they suddenly found traction, inside Congress and out. Raw feelings about the alignment between Washington and Wall Street after the crash made it possible. From the story:
For a growing number of Americans and their representatives in Washington, the Fed has become a symbol of taxpayer-funded bailouts, Wall Street greed, and elites that are out of touch with American workers. Indeed, the jaw-dropping Wall Street bonuses — continuing apace even as unemployment remains around 10% — seem to be behind the latest wave against the system.
That measure never passed. Though back in January, Sanders voted in the Senate for a version sponsored by Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, himself a Republican presidential candidate until he dropped out following a disappointing New Hampshire finish. Trump’s rise likely played a part in dooming Paul’s bid, siphoning support from voters perennially disaffected by more traditional pols. And while the two have deep differences over the limits of executive power, Trump has endorsed auditing the Fed. There’s likely little about Trump’s candidacy that cheers Sanders. But, for whatever it’s worth, there is that.