On Martin Luther King Jr. Day Bernie Sanders took to a stage in South Carolina and recalled King’s legacy of antiracism and labor organizing. Sanders emphasized historically black colleges and universities and took more than a few swipes at Donald Trump, calling him racist and lamenting moments of the last few years like his responses post Charlottesville. None of that is particularly groundbreaking, but at a time where candidates are doing everything they can to spend every waking second in Iowa, Bernie is clearly trying to sure up perceived weak spots.
A speech heavy with themes of racial justice, given on Martin Luther King Day, in South Carolina, is a blatant attempt to appeal to black voters and specifically black voters in the South. As black voters will be incredibly important to any Democrat who hopes to make it through the primary and they were instrumental in Hillary Clinton’s victory over Bernie Sanders just a few years ago. In fact, South Carolina specifically was clearly the beginning of the end for Bernie’s insurgent campaign.
The biggest run of the campaign wouldn’t come until months later, after many of the Southern primaries had already handed out delegates. But Bernie’s defeat was baked in given his dismal results with black voters in the South.
Now one speech in South Carolina won’t magically make Bernie Sanders incredibly popular with black voters. However, it does show he’s willing to work on he sees his weaknesses and is actively working to make up for them. Bernie has always been popular among young voters of color and it seems these efforts are softening his image among voters of color more generally. A recent poll showed Bernie Sanders was among the most favorably viewed candidates by voters of color, second only to Joe Biden.
Bernie clearly learned from 2016, he’s focusing on the South and it may have already yielded results. But it’s not just electioneering, Bernie has also learned a lot when it comes to policy.
Foreign Policy: Bernie Really Knows His Stuff This Time Around
Another complaint that was frequently leveled against Bernie Sanders was his poor handle on foreign policy. Sanders certainly primarily focuses on domestic economic policy and running against a former Secretary of State in Hillary Clinton, this weakness was compounded. However, the weakness was also overstated to begin with, it’s incredibly rare a candidate has a significant amount of foreign policy experience. And when it comes to the War in Iraq and the War in Afghanistan, Bernie Sanders clearly staked his position decades ago when he was one of the few voices in government who opposed the war in Iraq and the thrust of the war on terror more generally.
Despite these broad positions though, Bernie didn’t have a clear vision on foreign policy and with ISIS large in the news and the national discourse, Hillary Clinton used this to her advantage.
However since then Bernie has taken strides to add to his foreign policy bona fides. He championed the effort in the Senate to end the American role in Yemen. Sanders teamed up with people like Rand Paul to try and limit American intervention in the Middle East. And he speaks fluently on American foreign policy history, from the overthrow of the Iranian government in the 1950’s through Iraq, and now Yemen, Bernie Sanders has constructed a consistent leftist vision for foreign policy.
This likely won’t be a huge point of contention in the primary or 2020, but to the extent it is, Bernie Sanders has etched out a clear position that provides a clear model everyone on the left should follow.
Bernie’s Biggest Advantage, His Significant Base of Support
Bernie Sanders has a clear base of support, one of the largest email lists in the country, and a political organization with branches in every state of the union. Additionally, the New York Times recently reported his donor base dwarfs that of every single candidate in the primary already. It’s hard to overstate how big of an advantage this gives Bernie as other candidates scramble to build a campaign and find donors, grassroots and otherwise.
Before the primary even ended, Bernie Sanders founded Our Revolution which quickly formed political organizations in every state. An obvious advantage, but it also kept the grassroots volunteers on their toes and ready to jump back into a campaign and all the door knocking, social media, and phone banking it requires. These are the same people who make up the millions and millions of emails that Bernie Sanders can tap into for both volunteers and just as importantly, donors.
The foundation of Bernie Sanders success was the small donors who funded his campaign. He would commonly refer to his average donor of $27 dollars. More impressively he touted the tens of millions of dollars he raised from these donors, which dwarfed every candidate Democrat or Republican by the end of the primary. Many of these people are still willing to give to Bernie’s movement and it’s clear, he’s going to have more money, more people, and more organization behind him, than any other candidate in the race.
Bernie has learned, he’s a good politician who knows what he needs to do to win, without selling out his core values. He’s still got people behind him. People who believe in his ideas enough to devote their time and money to the cause, which is no small thing. It’s not clear whether it’ll be enough to push Bernie across the finish line, but it’s clear that he’s at the very least a front runner and formidable opponent for everyone else in the primary.