There the similarities end. While Bill Bradley dropped out of the primary race in 2000 after losing the first twenty primaries to Al Gore, Bernie Sanders, so far, has won eleven out of twenty-nine states over Hillary Clinton in 2016. No intra-party realignment has taken place since 2000. Sanders’s core constituencies are identical to Bradley’s: the working class, upper-middle-class mugwumps, and youth. But the disasters of the Bush administration and the inadequacies of Obama’s efforts at reform and recovery have hardened the resolve of these constituencies politically and the fragility of the economy, coupled with the persistence of income inequality, has increased their demographic weight.
Sanders’ rhetoric of “political revolution” signals to them that he is a candidate who clearly understands that democracy conducted along neoliberal lines was fatally injured in the 2008 crash. Talk of socialism is no longer taboo; systemic change, in one form or another, is imminent. The Vermont senator is reactivating sectors of the Democratic base captivated by Obama’s campaign only to be demobilized and disappointed by Obama’s record in office: within and without the party, Sanders can win over voters that Clinton, with her irrevocably tainted record of collusion with corporate interests and support from neoliberal intellectuals, never could. The narrative being presented, all but unanimously, by the professional political press is exactly wrong. It is Sanders, not Clinton, who has a higher electoral ceiling. Even if one sets the Sanders-dominated youth vote aside, the older left-tending working-class voters depressed by NAFTA and subsequent Clinton-backed trade agreements—all of which Sanders vehemently opposed—significantly outnumber the only Democratic bloc bitterly opposed to a Sanders nomination: the contented upper-middle class of which the professional political press is part, and whose interests it amplifies, albeit with diminishing effect. The assertion from the commentariat that Sanders is unviable in the general election can be reduced to the proposition that said commentariat, and the ever-shrinking proportion of voters who take its word as authoritative, would hate to vote for him—no less, but also no more.
Like Perot, who he resembles temperamentally, Sanders is wagering that he can win a rigged game; unlike the Texan businessman, however, the Senator has some experience in the matter of winning elections. His relative restraint with regards to his primary opponent should not necessarily be taken as a sign of weakness or naivete, nor should it be taken as a permanent fact: if he continues to perform above expectations, the condescension aimed at him from above will reach such a pitch as to justify counter-attacking, and he will need fresh charges to level then.