Bernie Sanders wasn’t supposed to give Hillary Clinton much of a challenge this primary season. The septuagenarian Democratic socialist senator from Vermont, the man who wasn’t even an active member of the Democratic Party until just before the campaign began, was not supposed to win any states, let alone take more than a dozen.
A rising tide of populism and an increasingly unpopular frontrunner, though, turned Sanders into a legitimate challenger. And while he didn’t end up taking the nomination, he will take the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia as the face of the progressive wing of the party, a hero to young left-wing activists.
The big question about Sanders’ speech on Monday evening will hinge on how much he will focus on the current election — he has said repeatedly that it is crucial Clinton wins, given how dangerous he considers the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency — and how much of it he’ll spend looking to the future, to the hard work of building a grassroots progressive movement that can turn the Democratic Party to the left after the votes are cast this fall.
Sanders has hinted that he could be looking to form a left-wing version of the Tea Party — an activist-led organization that challenges Democratic elected officials who are deemed insufficiently progressive, just like the Tea Party took on Republicans who were considered not conservative enough. Sanders has reportedly not given the Clinton campaign his vaunted e-mail list, a massive document that could be used to reach out to Sanders’ small donors and volunteers. This could be a sign that the senator plans to use that list to build his progressive operation after November to put progressive candidates in the House, the Senate, and local offices.
For Monday, though, Sanders will get his chance to address his supporters and the American people on a national stage. It won’t be the last time we hear from him, but it may be the biggest platform he has for a while.