‘They haven’t tried’: Bernie Sanders on Democrats’ economic messaging

In a Guardian interview, the Vermont senator urges people to turn out for next week’s ‘consequential’ midterm elections

Bernie Sanders has criticized Democrats for not doing enough to motivate voters around the economic issues that have an impact on everyday life, as he warned next week’s midterm elections are the most “consequential” in modern American history.

In an interview with the Guardian in Texas, the leftwing Vermont senator said: “Obviously, everybody should be turning out for what is the most consequential midterm election in the modern history of this country. Democracy is on the ballot. Women’s right to control their own bodies is on the ballot. Climate change is on the ballot, so everybody should come out.”

But Sanders said he worried “very much that Democrats have not done a good enough job of reaching out to young people and working-class people and motivating them to come out and vote in this election”.

Sanders, a Democratic socialist who ran for president in 2016 and 2020, maintains a strong core of support in the Democratic party. He has been a fierce critic of Republicans, particularly Donald Trump, but has also been unafraid to point out what he sees as flaws in Democratic strategy.

Sanders was in Texas last weekend as part of a barnstorming trip across the US ahead of next week’s midterm elections that he wants to use to highlight economic issues, which are emerging as the primary concern for many voters.

“People are hurting. You got 60% of our people living paycheck to paycheck, and for many workers, they are falling further behind as a result of inflation. Oil company profits are soaring, food company profits are soaring, drug company profits are soaring. Corporate profits are at an all time high. The rich are getting much richer, and Democrats have got to make that message,” he said.

In assessing his party’s success at communicating the threat of corporate profiteering to the cost of living, Sanders said, “It’s not a question of [Democrats being] successful. They haven’t tried.”

On Wednesday, Biden urged oil companies to pass their massive profits on to consumers, seeking to address what he sees as the real reason behind the high gas prices Americans have seen in the past year: corporate profiteering. It’s the kind of message Sanders hoped to see earlier in an election in which many Democratic candidates have focused more on the loss of abortion rights and the growing threat to US democracy.

“The truth is that about half of inflationary cost increases are a result of corporate greed. So if people can’t afford to fill up their gas tanks, if they can’t afford food, if they can’t afford their prescription drugs – what Democrats should be explaining to them is why that is so,” Sanders said.

Sanders said he is showing up for progressive candidates he feels were abandoned by many other Democrats. In San Marcos, Sanders appeared with the congressional candidate Greg Casar who is, according to Sanders, successfully underscoring the idea that Democrats are the party of economic leadership.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the southern region of the state where Latino voters play a critical role, Democrats still maintain their hold but are slowly losing control. Across south Texas counties in 2020, Biden either won against Trump by lower margins compared with Hilary Clinton in 2016, or he lost outright.

In a June special election for district 36 – which covers parts of the Gulf coast, including Brownsville – the rightwing conspiracy theorist Mayra Flores won and flipped a historically Democratic district.

On Sunday night, Sanders showed up in person to throw his weight behind Michelle Vallejo, a progressive in a tight congressional race with Monica De La Cruz, a fellow Latina endorsed by Trump in newly drawn congressional district 15.

It’s reminiscent of another race in the region back in 2020, when the progressive congressional candidate Jessica Cisneros lost by just a few hundred votes to the conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar, the incumbent representative and the only House Democrat to vote against legislation to codify Roe v Wade.

In that primary election, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the organization responsible for helping Democrats get elected to Congress, endorsed Cuellar over Cisneros, to the disappointment of Sanders, progressives and many other Democrats within the party.

Now, Sanders is hoping for a change of tune within the party.

“We worked hard for Jessica and she lost by a few hundred votes. And unbelievably, the Democratic leadership ended up supporting the most conservative Democrat in the caucus there [Henry Cuellar]. Look – what I would simply tell you … is that along with Greg, you’re gonna have some great new members of Congress from Illinois, from Pennsylvania, from around the country. And you’re going to have more strong progressives in Congress than in history this month in this country.”

While Sanders is still in disagreement with aspects of the strategy of the Democratic political apparatus, it remains unclear if this dissatisfaction extends to Joe Biden. Referring to the supreme court’s undoing of Roe v Wade, the case that enshrined the constitutional right to abortion into law, Sanders said it was an issue that is “enormously important”.

But it’s not the only issue.

“We’ve got a fight every step of the way with the supreme court. You’ve seen a pretty much united Democratic party on [the abortion] issue, have you not? Zillions of dollars on ads and so forth. But we have not had the same unity and the same energy around the economic crisis facing working families and what Republicans would do. So it’s not a question of what the president alone is doing. It’s a question of what the party is doing, where it’s putting its money, its resources, its energy.”

When asked if he supported a 2024 Biden presidential run, Sanders said: “Right now, we’re worried about 2022.”


Erum Salam in Austin

The GuardianTramp

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