There’s little doubt that the 2020 presidential election is going to have a crowded primary field. According to NPR, nine Democrats have officially entered the race, and over a dozen are still considered likely to declare candidacy any day. Presidential hopefuls include prominent Senators Elizabeth Warren (D —MA), Cory Booker (D — NJ), and Kamala Harris (D — CA). Although Senator Bernie Sanders (I — VT) has not officially entered the race, he is expected to announce soon, given his high approval ratings and popular campaign for president in 2016. Pundits and politicians alike have jumped at the chance to speculate on whether Sanders would be a viable candidate for 2020, many saying that further splitting support for the Democrats is likely to push Trump to victory.
The response to Sanders’ potential candidacy is similar, if not escalated, from 2016. People have said that his policies are too radical, too outlandish, or too ambitious for a presidential campaign. Others said that there was no point in supporting him during the primaries because Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for victory, both for the Democratic party’s nomination and eventually the presidency. Whether or not they were right, whether or not Sanders has a shot now or had a shot then, the idea that a candidate should not enter a primary race is detrimental to all within the party.
The overbearing two-party political system already provides such limited access for candidates who aspire to the highest national office. Reasonably, they must fit into one of the two categories that has been broadened to appeal to as many voters as possible. Candidates like Sanders have been criticized for being too far left, while candidates like Clinton have been accused of being too moderate and actually more closely resembling a Republican.
The history and pervasive nature of the two-party system is too rich to get into in this article, but the reality is that, in a given presidential election, the average American essentially has to choose between one of two candidates to represent the broad and profoundly diverse nation. Because of this, it is essential that we do not limit any kind of participation in primary elections. Sanders is not a Democrat, but it is so difficult for any candidate, no matter how popular, to run with a third party.
And why not Sanders, if he chooses to run? FiveThirtyEight reports that Sanders is the most popular Senator in the nation, well above Harris, Warren, and Booker. His policies that were deemed wildly unrealistic in 2016 have become a much more mainstream part of the Democratic platform; the Green New Deal has gained significant support in the first few weeks of Congress’s new session, and an MSNBC poll shows that 65 percent of Americans are in favor of Medicare for all. In the primary season, more young people voted for Sanders than both Clinton and Trump combined, according to Pew Research Center. Every poll that matched Sanders up with Trump projected Sanders as the winner by at least four percentage points (although all the polls also projected Clinton the winner in 2016 against Trump, but RealClearPolitics conducted a number of polls and compiled electoral maps from around the nation).
It’s not just that people like Sanders — it’s that they were energized by him, and energy could make the difference in a presidential election against a sitting incumbent (lest we forget the infamous words, “low energy” killed Jeb Bush’s bid for the White House before the debate finished streaming). Democracy is not a spectator sport. It demands constant attention and devotion to ensure that the interests of the people are being served. I hardly disagree with the slogan, “Anybody but Trump 2020,” but we must remember that primary elections are integral to the democratic process. If nothing else, they bring up issues amongst and between the political parties.
A competitive primary season may make the already long and uphill battle to unseat Trump in 2020 a little longer, but competition still serves the important process of bringing in new voices to the conversation. Is Sanders the ideal 2020 candidate? Maybe he’s not for you, but that’s a choice you get to make because we have primary elections.