Bernie Sanders may not have been able to quite finish his political revolution, but he sure has started one – and it will likely reverberate in the Democratic Party for years to come.

It’s not a surprise that the party establishment was able to successfully coalesce around one candidate to stop Sanders: The surprise is in the candidate they picked, Joe Biden. While Biden is well known, he’s not exactly beloved – whether it’s among progressive grassroots activists or voters as a whole. That’s why there were initially so many other candidates dividing the anti-Sanders votes: many Democrats yearned for a viable alternative to both of them, but such a candidate never truly emerged in this race.

It’s also why, whether Biden ends up winning or losing, Democrats face the very real prospect of a continuing war between the activist progressive wing and the traditional establishment. If Biden loses in the general election, that fight would begin immediately after the election and be extraordinarily bitter. Bernie Sanders’ supporters would argue that the party chose the wrong man for the job, and depending on the scope and circumstances of Biden’s loss, they may well have a good case to make.

If the very idea of Joe Biden losing to Donald Trump in the general election seems completely implausible to you, congratulations: You’re qualified to be a member of the Democratic establishment. You should probably head off to the next Democratic National Committee meeting and dust off your formal wear for the inaugural ball. All the people who have been saying again and again how unelectable Bernie Sanders is were also thoroughly convinced four years ago that Donald Trump was Hillary Clinton’s dream opponent because he couldn’t possibly win, either. If Biden runs a lackluster campaign and fails to defeat Trump in the fall, Sanders’ supporters will rightly delight in pointing this out yet again.

They won’t simply crow about it online, though. There will be a movement to punish all of the former presidential candidates who teamed up to save Biden in the primary. For those who are still in office, they may well face a vigorous primary challenge from one of Sanders’ supporters – and they won’t be the only ones. Sanders’ base could form the basis for a new political movement within the Democratic Party, just as supporters of Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign helped become the core of the tea party movement.

This has already been happening to some degree: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez famously knocked off an incumbent member of Democratic leadership to make it to Congress. She volunteered for Sanders’ 2016 campaign, endorsed him in 2020 and was supported by Justice Democrats, a political action committee founded by Sanders supporters to assist other liberal Democrats. If Biden loses, Justice Democrats is undoubtedly going to redouble their efforts rather than fading into the woodwork – and they may well be part of a much larger political movement in coming years.


Without the need to defeat specific national figures, whether that’s Donald Trump in the general or Bernie Sanders in the primary, it will be much harder for the Democratic establishment to maintain control. Indeed, with Trump in office for a second term, the liberal base will be itching for a fight – and it will probably be as much with their own party as with the Republican Party. After Barack Obama won re-election in 2012, the tea party took a much firmer grip over the Republican Party. While they weren’t quite able to remove him from office, the tea party’s constant fights with their own leadership did lead to John Boehner stepping down as speaker of the House.

Although the progressives in Congress haven’t fought quite as openly with Democratic leadership, they’ve made it clear there’s no love lost there. In a second Trump term, those tensions will likely come to a head. Though they may not try to oust Nancy Pelosi, they could well pressure her to step aside before her promised 2022 exit in favor of a younger, more liberal alternative.

If Joe Biden does manage to defeat Trump, all of these fights may be delayed, but they won’t be denied. The Democratic establishment seems to want the world to think that they’re saving the entire party by stopping Sanders, but really their primary concern is saving themselves. Whether they like it or not, though, they’ve really hitched themselves to Joe Biden. He may seem like a safe bet, but actually he’s a risky proposition and their entire plan could well backfire spectacularly.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: jimfossel

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