Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has a clear message and strategy to help mend the wounds that have left the Democratic Party divided. After months of polling as the nation's most popular politician, he should be taken more seriously — even as an outsider.
In an op-ed published in Politico, Sanders began with a strong rebuke of President Donald Trump and everything that Trump's policies and rhetoric stand for. But that's a given to a party at a crossroads, facing the question of what's next.
So far, Sanders — who is technically an independent — and the Democrats have been on the same page with this message. But the two factions diverge when Sanders talks about reform from within the party. Scan "Resistance" on Twitter, and you're apt to find thousands of accounts who believe that Sanders hurt Clinton's chances for victory.
Yet deflecting blame for Clinton's loss onto Sanders seems to give too much credit to him and implies that Clinton was predestined to be the primary victor. Critiquing one's primary opponent is an utterly normal thing to do in any primary, but in the end, the Clinton-Sanders rift is both an ideological and political set of differences. And that's especially true when the two figures are removed.
But back to Sanders' recent critique of the party. Sanders praised the Democratic victories across the United States on Tuesday and said it was "an important first step in pushing back against Trump’s radical agenda."
"But this will not happen without an effective opposition party," Sanders continued. He went on to argue that, despite the victories, "the longer-term trend for the Democratic Party is worrisome."
There's plenty of merit to that claim, even if many don't want to believe it to be true. Only 37 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of the Democratic Party, a new CNN poll revealed. It's the lowest mark for the party in more than 25 years of polling. A majority, 54 percent, said they had an unfavorable view of the party. Note that Sen. Sanders is far more popular than the Democratic Party at large: in an October Harvard-Harris poll, 53 percent of those polled had a favorable opinion of Sanders. That sounds low, but he was still the most well-liked politician by far: Mike Pence had 45 percent favorability, Trump polled at 41 percent and Hillary Clinton 39.
Sanders pointed out how the party's power and influence across the country has vastly diminished since 2009, including the loss of "more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the country."
Citing tax reform and repeated health care failures, Sanders wrote that what's most "absurd about this situation is that the American people strongly oppose almost all elements of the Trump-Republican agenda."
Sanders argued that "the [Democratic] party cannot remain an institution largely dominated by the wealthy and inside-the-Beltway consultants."
He added, "It must open its doors and welcome into its ranks millions of working people and young people who desperately want to be involved in determining the future of our nation."
To reform the party, Sanders said, "First, it is absurd that the Democratic Party now gives over 700 superdelegates—almost one-third the number a presidential candidate needs to win the nomination—the power to control the nominating process and ignore the will of voters."
Second, he argued that the Democrats stand for "making voting easier, not harder," and that it "must apply to our primaries."
"Our job must be to reach out to independents and to young people and bring them into the Democratic Party process. Independent voters are critical to general election victories. Locking them out of primaries is a pathway to failure," Sanders wrote.
But perhaps his final point is the toughest for many to finally come to terms with.
"If we are to succeed," Sanders wrote, "we must fully appreciate [Donna] Brazile’s revelations and understand the need for far more transparency in the financial and policy workings of the Democratic Party." He added, "Hundreds of millions of dollars flow in and out of the Democratic National Committee with little to no accountability. That simply is not acceptable."
The "revelations" in question referred to former interim Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairwoman Donna Brazile, wrote last week that the DNC had an "unethical" agreement in place that put the Clinton campaign in charge of directing the party's funds, staffing and overall strategy long before she had won the primary.
Brazile, who oversaw the DNC during a crucial stretch of the presidential primary, shined a light on why Sanders' shot at winning the primary was likely doomed from the start.