Draft Bernie is no more.
The liberal activists who hoped to recruit Sen. Bernard Sanders to lead a new third party appear to have given up on the senator, dropping his name from their movement as they search for another champion to pave an independent path in the next presidential election.
Comprising former Sanders staffers and volunteers, the group says the invite to Mr. Sanders still stands, but it’s changing its name from “Draft Bernie for a People’s Party” to “Movement for a People’s Party.”
“We are motivated to continue whether Bernie is prepared to join us yet or not by the fact that a new party is inevitable in the United States,” said Nick Brana, who founded the effort and serves as its national director.
MPP plans to bring together progressive organizations, unions and working people in the hopes of consolidating resources and fielding a presidential candidate in 2020.
“Presidential campaigns offer a unique ability to motivate wholesale, kind of across-the-board political change by creating a down-ballot effect and by creating a very visible candidate and platform that can help sweep in lower down-ballot candidates,” Mr. Brana said.
He and his fellow activists say they fear the Democratic Party is more interested in cooperating with the political right than embracing a fully progressive platform of state-sponsored health care, free college tuition and raising taxes on the rich.
Beyond policy, their experience in the presidential primary race last year, when they believe the Democratic National Committee worked to sabotage Mr. Sanders’ chances to be the party’s nominee, have soured them. Revelations from former interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile that the party struck a deal to give Hillary Clinton exceptional control even during the primary have fueled the outrage.
Progressives also point out that the DNC recently removed Sanders backers from the party’s rules committee.
“We think it is inevitable that we will see a new party in the U.S. because the electoral opening is so vast and so large,” Mr. Brana said. “It is less of a question of whether someone is going to start a new party than it is who is going to be the first to do it.”
Mr. Brana is motivated by polls that show more and more voters are identifying as independent and are more open to a political third party than they have been. A Gallup tracking poll shows that 42 percent of voters say they are independent, compared with 31 percent who say they are Republican and 24 percent who say they are Democratic.
Another survey from Gallup found that 61 percent of voters say the nation should have a competitive third major political party.
Charlie Cook, of The Cook Political Report, said the biggest impediment to establishing a viable third party is that it cannot win the presidency.
“That is the ultimate prize, and as long as there is a legitimate Democrat and legitimate Republican, it is impossible for a third party to get a majority of Electoral College votes,” Mr. Cook said. “There is no reason why you couldn’t have a third party win House seats, Senate seats and governorships — as they have rarely — but the thing is, nationally speaking, the White House is the ultimate prize, and an independent cannot win in a three-way race.”
Third parties have produced some memorable political figures, including Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Jesse Ventura and Gary Johnson. For the most part, however, most well-known third parties — the Constitutionalists, Greens and Libertarians — have struggled to put their imprint on national politics.
Some believed the presidential race last year, which featured two unpopular candidates, opened the door for a third-party candidate. Mr. Johnson, a former two-term New Mexico governor and onetime Republican presidential candidate, ran as a Libertarian and won 3.7 percent of the national vote, a new high for his party.
Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, has been an intriguing figure. He identifies as an independent for voters back home in Vermont but caucuses with Democrats on Capitol Hill and is deeply invested in the party’s politics.
His former volunteers and staffers who now make up the Movement for a People’s Party spent months trying to entice him to abandon the Democratic Party, including a petition drive that gathered 50,000 signatures on a request that he break away.
Mr. Sanders, though, said he will try to remake the party from the inside out, suggesting that he believes the best bet of seeing his progressive vision come to fruition lies with Democrats.
There are some signs it is working, as 16 Senate Democrats, including a number of possible 2020 presidential contenders, signed onto the Medicare-for-all bill that he released last month.
Mr. Sanders also has flirted with running for the party’s presidential nomination again.
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