Bernie Sanders’ double-digit primary victory in Nevada earlier this month becomes all the more impressive when the establishment media treatment of his candidacy is taken into consideration. Even the media blackout and constant negative coverage from the establishment-dominated MSNBC was ultimately unsuccessful in stopping Sanders’ rise. After months of claims that his support would hit a 25 per cent “ceiling” and would never broaden beyond progressives, Bernie Sanders won nearly every demographic in Nevada. Sanders outperformed his polls and assembled the primary’s most diverse coalition by winning the majority of white, young black, and female voters, as well as three-fourths of the state’s Hispanic electorate.
The Senator’s support also cut across voters of several distinct backgrounds; the democratic socialist won the majority of union, non-union, progressive, educated, non-educated, and even moderate voters, only underperforming among voters over the age of 65. The ability to assemble an electoral coalition of this nature should not be underestimated. While a disappointing showing across the South on Super Tuesday later served to blunt Sanders’ momentum, by uniting Nevada voters of nearly every background, Sanders sent a clear signal to the establishment in media and government: he is a serious contender to win the nomination.
From the start of the 2020 Democratic primary race, the mainstream media consistently dismissed Bernie Sanders. Some called on Sanders to drop out or while others predicted his supporters would eventually desert him. This dismissive treatment was perhaps most pronounced at MSNBC, America’s most prominent liberal cable news outlet with deep ties to the Democratic old guard. By excluding Senator Sanders from graphics displaying polling data and routinely labeling his lower-polling competitors as “top contenders,” MSNBC manufactured an anti-Sanders “media blackout” that either cast doubt on the Senator’s viability or even ignored his existence entirely. When forced to acknowledge Sanders’ presence in the race, the network, known for its commentators’ overwhelmingly negative coverage of Sanders, has launched openly hostile and at times personal attacks. Well-known liberal media personalities such as Joy Ried and Mimi Rocah have even accused Sanders of sexism without evidence and of making their “skin crawl.”
As the Nevada results trickled in, MSNBC pundits watched Sanders pull off the very feat they seemed confident was impossible. Seemingly entering panic mode, incredulous commentators wondered out loud how Bernie had pulled it off given his campaign’s alleged “toxicity” and “divisiveness.” Others audibly sighed with despair as they reported high turnout for Sanders at caucus sites. Establishment allies Chris Matthews and Joy Ried sounded the alarms with Matthews likening Sanders’ victory to the hostile takeover of France by Nazi forces. Many Sanders surrogates unsurprisingly pointed to this as evidence of entrenched media bias against Sanders, who is Jewish and lost many family members during the Holocaust.
As the reality of Sanders’s once-unthinkable expansive coalition sunk in, however, MSNBC seemed to be coming to terms with Bernie Sanders as the party’s potential standard-bearer. Caving to years-long criticism of the network’s anti-Bernie and anti-progressive bias, MSNBC surprised many by recently announcing plans to hire more pro-Sanders journalists. Even more surprising, Chris Matthews succumbed to pressure to apologize to Sanders on-air for likening him to Nazis. Matthews’ first-ever apology to Sanders for attacks he has regularly lobbed against him symbolizes a watershed moment in the Democratic Party and underscores the growing power of the Sanders movement. By acknowledging Bernie’s viability for the first time before its audience of millions, MSNBC embodied a turning point currently underway in the Democratic primary campaign.
Indeed, some establishment Democratic politicians already seem to be rebuilding the bridges that have been burnt, wagering that strategic reconciliation with the Sanders movement will prove to be a political lifeline should he win the nomination. The progressive Democratic base has always been with Bernie Sanders. If he wins, so will the party apparatus. For this reason alone, the “Never Trump” Republicans were forced into the political wilderness upon Trump’s takeover of the GOP. Democrats watching such a process play out on the right will most likely be keen not to suffer the same fate and are highly likely to fall in line. If not, they may be forced to abandon ambitions of securing reelection or a coveted cabinet position.
Accordingly, some establishment Democrats have already begun their entreaties to the Sanders camp, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Despite his long-standing relationship with the Clintons and establishment Washington think tanks, de Blasio has slowly repositioned himself as a progressive. Sanders’s win in Nevada may have accelerated this process, as the mayor swiftly endorsed Sanders last month. Congressman Ted Lieu, another center-left Democrat who endorsed Kamala Harris prior to her exit from the race recently reversed himself on Sanders’ electability in key swing states following the Nevada results. Stating that media pundits and Washington insiders are blind to the populist political headwinds blowing across the country, Lieu tweeted, “A little humility should be in order for those in the beltway who are so certain that some candidates can’t win the general election.”
Finally, perhaps even more revealing, were statements made by the Democratic party’s most powerful politicians: Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. Clinton was forced to quickly reverse her previous refusal to promise her endorsement should Sanders be the Democratic nominee. More importantly, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi expressed “comfort” with Bernie Sanders as the standard bearer of her party. As the powerful Speaker of the House, Pelosi’s cooperation would be vital to ensure the passage of key parts of Sanders’ agenda. This pragmatism displayed by Pelosi and many of her colleagues is indicative of Sanders’ increasing viability as a candidate and as president. Sanders not only appears poised to unite the Democratic Party November, but also appears able to build the bridges with entrenched establishment figures necessary to govern.
Edited by Sophia Rafuse.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
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