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Read Between the Lines: The Case for Bernie Sanders Running as an Independent

Bernie Sanders could run for president as an independent — and he could win.

Sen. Bernie Sanders makes a campaign stop in Clinton, Iowa, on January 23, 2016. Do not be shocked if the rhetoric from the Sanders camp continues to shift and the United States has its first legitimate three-way presidential race in decades. (Photo: Evan Guest)

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Everyone seems to think Bernie Sanders is finished. The establishment wants him out, Hillary Clinton has moved onto the general election and pundits clamor over the mathematical impossibility of his nomination. Even Donald Trump, who likely has ulterior motives, has called attention to this reality. But through all of this, one individual appears unfazed: Bernie Sanders himself. He has been called to back away and give up, but he has done just the opposite. If anything, he has further embroiled and empowered himself and his movement with his recent rhetoric.

But why is he doing this? The pundits are not incorrect to assert the mathematical impossibility of his nomination. Barring a miracle landslide victory in California, Bernie Sanders will not win the nomination. Does it really matter though?

Bernie Sanders could run as an independent and could win.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, “Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016.”

If there’s one thing we’ve learned this election season, it is that we must think outside the box. Bernie Sanders is already doing this and has been for decades. We all know he has an independent streak, yet very few believe he will pursue an independent bid. This should not be considered an unfathomable option. He already is an Independent. He has little or no loyalty to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). His Senate seat is safe. He has nothing to lose. He is in this race for one reason: to win.

This is not going to be possible as the head of the Democratic Party, but it does not matter. Yes, he is running within the constraints of the party, but this is merely strategic. As Sanders himself stated, “In terms of media coverage, you have to run within the Democratic Party.” This statement is far from loyal or adorning.

Sanders realizes the realities of the modern political system. As he states, one would need to be a “billionaire” to run as an independent, but Sanders is “not a billionaire.” He continues, “The structure of American politics today is such that I thought the right ethic was to run within the Democratic Party.” There are two parties, and in order to receive attention, funding and support, one must play by these rules and be an active participant in the primary calendar. The real question is, but for how long?

Bernie Sanders sees himself as the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump, and the polls agree.

Sanders has said he will remain in the race until all primary ballots are cast. If he were to run as an independent, this would be the wisest approach. Why declare independence now when the news cycle will continue to cover the Democratic primaries? He can continue to weaken Hillary Clinton. He can continue to win primaries, even the nation’s largest primary, California. And most importantly, he can remain center stage. If he were to declare an independent bid today, he would lose these advantages.

So of course, many will point to his and his supporters’ consistent denial of an independent bid. His wife, Jane Sanders, stated, “We’ve been very clear right from the beginning that we will not play the role of spoiler … We cannot afford a Republican in the White House … So Bernie will not be running as an independent.” But with the aforementioned strategic advantages in mind, a denial is the best move for the Sanders camp. Democratic primaries remain on the schedule — primaries Sanders would like to win. Therefore, he must deny an independent bid, for the time being.

Even further, one must read between the lines in Jane Sanders’ statement. There is more to it than a simple denial. She says, “we will not play the spoiler role” à la Ralph Nader. But if one listens to Bernie Sanders speak and address his large crowds, he sees himself as much more than a spoiler. He sees himself as the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump, and the polls agree. He continues to rightfully attest that he has “a better shot at beating Donald Trump than Sec. Clinton. In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and New Hampshire.”

Yes, Jane Sanders denies the independent bid now because it is advantageous. But what’s to stop Bernie Sanders once the Democratic convention passes? He has the money, he has the support, and as Sanders argues, he has the independent vote. Even further, he has the loyalty of young supporters who believe in his progressive cause and are energetically mobilizing.

Unrest within the party, as seen at the Nevada convention, actually works in Sanders’ favor. He is already preparing his escape. The establishment now fears Sanders and his movement. They have asked him to back down and to calm his energetic supporters, but he has instead dialed up his rhetoric. Here, he can stage his breakup from the party and leave even stronger. He has begun portraying the party as the enemy, and in this year of anti-establishment politics, voters will respond positively to this message. As Sanders stated at a rally in Carson, California, “At [the Nevada] convention, the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.”

If Sanders were to declare an independent bid without such unrest or speculation, he would come across as the villain. He would be the one fracturing the party and he would be to blame for a possible Trump presidency. But if Sanders can turn the rhetoric and debate onto the system, he can divert this negative attention.

He has begun to do this and will likely continue. Sanders has a litany of topics over which he can attack the party at his disposal (superdelegates, super PACS, Debbie Wasserman Schultz etc.) Doing so would substantiate and legitimize his claim to an independent bid. Like anyone considering a breakup, he has created his rationale for leaving. This rationale will allow him to leave the relationship with his head held high, relatively unscathed and ready to take on Trump.

Admittedly, this bid would not be without its challenges (like all campaigns). Specifically, Sanders could face financial and ballot access obstacles. Although this is the case, Sanders has a proven track record in successfully achieving the unexpected. He has raised funds like no other presidential candidate before. What is to stop his loyal supporters from continuing this trend? If anything, they would be reenergized by an independent bid. Sanders and his followers have consistently demonstrated their innovation. The ballot access issue may be challenging in some states, but there are options (a third-party bid, the creation of a new party or even an innovative mobilization strategy involving write-ins — though all of these come with their own challenges).

With this innovative spirit, nothing to lose, no loyalty to the DNC, and most importantly, as polls reflect, a real chance to win, do not be shocked if the rhetoric from the Sanders camp continues to shift and the United States has its first legitimate three-way presidential race in decades.

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