Will the Bern create third party?
For those who "felt the Bern" during the Democratic primary, it remains to be seen how, if at all, they will harness and channel their energy moving forward. Establishment Democrats are attempting to keep them in the fold, particularly through fear of a Donald Trump presidency, while the Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, actively and aggressively courts their support.
But the real action will not be about 2016; rather, it will be the mid-term elections of 2018 and beyond.
Following the lead of Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressives have sought and earned ballot access this year in various individual races for congressional seats, and there is no doubt that more will follow in future years. This year's crop is running under the Democratic Party's banner. But, if the movement's leaders wish to realize their policy goals, they will have to seek third party status and, in doing so, focus heavily on state and municipal elections for legislative seats.
When faced with a similar dilemma, the leaders of the tea party movement charted a course to take over the Republican Party. Progressives may resist the suggestion of any parallels to the tea party, but there is much to be learned.
While the Tea Party Caucus in Congress can perhaps rationalize that they thwarted much of the president's agenda since 2010, they accomplished very little of what they set out to do. To the contrary, they have been appropriately chastised for legislative debacles such as shutting down the government over the debt ceiling and wasting energy on myriad, meaningless votes to end Obamacare. They now find themselves buried under the Trump tsunami and many are choosing to leave Washington after three, unfulfilling terms.
This same fate awaits progressives, should they remain under the Democratic banner, especially if Hillary Clinton is elected president and her coattails produce significant gains in Congress. Beyond the usual bait-and-switch for votes, the elders of the Democratic party have no intentions of pursuing the progressive agenda to any significant degree.
While they may not have won as many seats, at the Congressional level, a formalized tea party would likely have held enough seats to prevent either the Republicans or Democrats from holding a majority. They would have elected their own, independent leadership team and would have earned a seat at the table for all negotiations. This unique position would have allowed them to trade votes for results when they wanted to be problem-solvers and would have kept them from being demonized when Democrats and Republicans independently persisted in their dysfunction.
Fortunately for the progressives, all of the stars have aligned for the formation of an effective, competitive third party to pursue their agenda. Thanks to Sanders, their issues are in the forefront of the political conversation, and his ability to raise campaign funds should be transferable to new candidates in the 2018 campaign cycle. Thanks to Democrats and Republicans, candidates Clinton and Trump have sent voters scurrying in search of alternatives. With respect to process, while many will point out the difficulty of achieving third party status, social media is a game-changer that will allow progressives to reach the critical, millennial cohort. The millennial vote many not currently be sufficient to drive outcomes, but the evolution of our political system from the environment of dysfunction and polarization will likely take decades, not years.
By Steven Nemerovski
Originally published in the Albany Times Union