Bernie Sanders may have lost his bid for the presidency, but his political influence is still felt strongly in a Democratic Party that has mid-term elections fixed firmly in its sights. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi picked up one of Sanders standards from his campaign — the $15 minimum wage — and promised to pass it swiftly should the Democrats regain majority status.
Confidence in the Democratic Party’s 2018 election odds has shifted as President Trump and the Republican House have struggled with budget and healthcare legislation despite having the majority. Special elections around the country have also given voters and leadership what could be small previews of what’s to come in next year’s contentious congressional races. If the news of late is any predictor, 2018 is going to be a wild ride of frenzied Hollywood financing and savage beat-downs that inspire pro-wrestling memes.
In many ways, however, Pelosi’s endorsement of the $15 minimum wage is as much about the past as the future. Politico points out that Pelosi has backed the hike since 2015 and pointedly referenced the 2007 increase of the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in her remarks on the new potential Democratic agenda. The Democrats are simply trying to play it safe by putting a reasonably popular goal and a successful former strategy front and center.
The irony, of course, is that the Democrats are trying to repeat a past success by hitching their apple wagon to Sanders’ star. The Vermont senator has long presented himself as an alternative to the left-of-center establishment and isn’t even technically a Democrat. That conflict is indicative of the same general confusion the Democrats have felt about how the party can regain momentum.
We saw this not only in the primaries but also in the contested race for a DNC Chair, which resulted in Tom Perez winning the position. Perez’s win was historic in that he’s the first Latino to hold the seat, but he’s also a familiar face who served as Obama’s secretary of labor.
Upon Perez’s win, Bernie Sanders even remarked that it’s “imperative that Tom understands that the same-old, same-old is not working and that we must open the doors of the party to working people and young people in a way that has never been done before.”
Sanders may have a point, as the Democrats’ strategies have so far gotten them into an uncomfortable spot, sans White House or House majority. But Politico reports that some conservatives are already prepared to paint Sanders’ influence in remaking the Democratic Party as socialist meddling. The caricature of Sanders as a far-left nut that dogged his campaign is still sitting there, waiting to be picked back up by a variety of opponents.
For example, according to Politico, Jeremy Adler, the spokesman for a conservative group called America Rising, made a statement in response to Pelosi’s minimum wage announcement that seems the first move in a long rhetorical chess game. “This is a significant moment,” Adler said, “since it confirms that the Democrat Party is now in the hands of extreme liberals that have more in common with European Socialism than the free enterprise principles that have guided America for generations.”
When Clinton won the primary, the United States avoided the narrative of extremes exemplified by a Sanders vs. Trump battle for the White House (France recently dodged that bullet, too). But that narrative could be revived if the GOP succeeds in portraying the Democratic party as the party of Sanders and sets Trump’s supporters tilting at that windmill. How that plays out for the left, and that extra $7.75 an hour, depends on how nimbly Democrats respond over the next year.