Mar 3, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Sanders crowds see a Trump of their own

Photo illustration of Bernie Sanders speaking into a microphone with raised fists behind him

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Paras Griffin/WireImage

The Bernie Sanders diehards packing his rallies would love to live in a world with Medicare for All, free college and higher taxes on the rich — but they mostly know that's a distant dream. Instead, they're fueled by the movement he's promising to build.

Why it matters: Sanders, on a delegate roll heading into today's 14-state Super Tuesday voting, is looking more and more like a liberal incarnation of Donald Trump circa 2016 — a cultural force who transcends party or policies.

  • His followers have extreme enthusiasm — and modest expectations.

We interviewed more than two dozen Sanders rally-goers over the past week in Virginia, which votes today, and in South Carolina.

  • Sanders' progressive platform might spook his critics. But for his base, it's mostly about finally having a champion for these progressive values in the White House — not about actually changing the laws right away.

What they're saying: "If he doesn't get it done, it's not because he won't try," said Colton Fagundes, a supporter who said he expects student loan forgiveness under a Sanders presidency.

  • "Obama gave so many olive branches," Fagundes complained.
  • Luke Waldrop, 23, said it's "really just about changing the zeitgeist and American politics."
  • "He's always toed the same line," said voter David Small. "The poor and disenfranchised will feel like they have a real advocate."

The big picture: Moderate Democrats including Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg and former candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar have been arguing that Sanders wouldn't be able to accomplish much of what he's promising because even Democrats in Congress won't go along with him.

Sanders has been asked about his ability to compromise, and he's been lambasted by institutions including the New York Times editorial board over such concerns. But several supporters said an unwillingness to compromise — even if it means not getting something done — isn't a turnoff.

  • "We could have had a single-payer system in 2008, but we were too focused on compromising with Republicans — he's not going to do that," voter Joe Potischman said of Sanders.
  • "If he doesn't get things done, it's not because he didn't want to," said supporter Sofien Benslimane. "It's because someone stopped him."

Supporters do believe Sanders would have an easy time legalizing marijuana, creating protections for DACA recipients and eliminating student loan debt because he could circumvent Congress and use executive orders.

The bottom line: Many Sanders voters see Trump as having paved the way for a President Sanders.

  • Sanders supporter Jamal Jilao said, "I hope the time of being fearful of using executive orders has been laid to rest."

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