Senator warns of Trump’s ‘demagoguery 101’ but tells the Guardian he has not decided whether to run in 2020
Bernie Sanders has declared that the midterm election results show a clear path for a progressive candidate to win the White House in 2020 – but the Vermont senator has not made up his mind yet as to whether he will be among those running.
In a phone interview from Burlington on Wednesday, Sanders, fresh off his Senate re-election victory, called Trump’s “us-against-them” approach to government a lesson in “demagoguery 101” and said he was dismayed that the president’s fear-based appeals helped strengthen Republican control of the Senate.
“When people are anxious and worried about the future, demagogues not just in the United States but all over the world play to those fears,” Sanders said.
But the Democratic takeover of the House, which ended one-party rule in Washington, was a “very clear message from the American people against Trump policies, his behavior and his bigotry”, Sanders told the Guardian.
Reacting to the news that Trump forced his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to resign, Sanders saw a ploy by the president to turn the attention away from his election night losses.
“It’s not an accident that as the media is discussing last night’s defeats for him and the progress that Democrats have made, he wants to change that discussion immediately by firing Sessions,” he said.
He continued: “I think that it is absolutely imperative that the Mueller investigation looking at possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russians must be allowed to proceed unimpeded. If it is not allowed it would constitute an obstruction of justice and that would, in fact, be an impeachable offense. My hope is that Trump is smart enough to understand that.”
The culmination of the 2018 midterms marked the unofficial beginning of what is expected to be a long and crowded race for the White House in 2020. Sanders would join a field that could realistically number in the dozens.
Sanders said he is “talking to a lot of people and doing a lot of analysis” about what candidate was best suited to win in the battleground states that Hillary Clinton lost.
Among his possible opponents, should he run, are the former vice-president Joe Biden, Sanders’ fellow senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, as well as a handful of governors, mayors and business executives. That’s not counting rising Democratic stars who narrowly lost races on Tuesday – Andrew Gillum in Florida, where he fell short in his bid to become Governor, and Beto O’Rourke in Texas, who came close to ousting the conservative torchbearer Ted Cruz with a spirited campaign that garnered attention across the nation and even internationally.
“The question we have to ask ourselves,” Sanders said, “is which of the candidates out there is going to win in Michigan, in Ohio, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, in Florida. That is the challenge.”
Republicans won governorships in Florida and Ohio, two battleground states crucial to presidential victories. But Democrats unseated Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, captured the governor’s mansion in Michigan, and held on to the governorship in Pennsylvania, three states that sealed Trump’s victory in 2016.
For a Democratic party divided over how to build a winning coalition, and which candidate can best take on Trump, the midterm elections offered few conclusive answers. And for progressives, like Sanders, who had hoped the midterm elections would prove that Democrats can run unapologetically liberal campaigns and win in battleground districts and states, the night provided little evidence.
Sanders argued that O’Rourke and Gillum, who ran as progressives and came within percentage points of winning statewide contests in parts of the country that supported Trump in 2016, offered a blueprint for Democrats on how to win in conservative states.
Their campaigns generated a “level of excitement that I know has not been seen in Florida or in Texas in a very long time”. He said their candidacies, though ultimately unsuccessful, were a sign that progressives were winning the contest of ideas within the Democratic party on economic policy.
“Take a hard look at the [House Democrats] elected to Congress next year,” he said. “It’s not just that many of them are women or people of color – many of them are progressives who won their elections demanding Medicare for All [government-backed health insurance], demanding raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and making public colleges and universities tuition free.”
As for when Sanders will announce his decision on running for president, the senator said he wanted to give the American people some time to “take a deep breath” before plunging back into another election cycle.
“I want the strongest candidate that we can have so that we can beat Trump – that is the most important,” he said. “There are some very good people out there who have indicated they are thinking about running. I certainly don’t think I am the only one.”