The recent primary losses are not the first time the air went out of the movement-left’s visions of inevitability. It also happened during the 2016 presidential primaries when — for all of Bernie Sanders’ massive rallies and coverage by an obsessive media — the independent from Vermont lost to Hillary Clinton. And he lost by a not insignificant margin of nearly 3.7 million votes.
The problem with left-wing movements isn’t so much “the left-wing” as it is the “movements.” Movements sometimes have a totalitarian edge that cannot abide dissent, or even a hint of it. They’re “us” versus “them.” In the case of left-wing movements, the “them” is often fellow Democrats.
You saw that way back in 1972, when Sanders was running for Vermont governor. As Mother Jones reported, a fellow Vermont activist named Greg Guma asked Sanders the innocent question of why he should vote for him.
Sanders’ response: “If you didn’t come to work for the movement, you came for the wrong reasons. I don’t care who you are; I don’t need you.”
The painful reality for the Democratic Party is that much of the movement left doesn’t necessarily care whether Democrats win. Recall the election of 2000, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader siphoned off enough liberal votes to deliver victory to Republican George W. Bush.
Democrat Al Gore and Bush had been running neck and neck. Despite reports that Republican groups were running ads for Nader, significant voices on the left were urging liberals to vote for Nader.