Bernie Sanders says he ran as a Democrat in order to get the media to cover him. Good.

In a town hall-style interview with Chuck Todd yesterday, Bernie Sanders said that he ran for president as a Democrat in order to receive media coverage, telling Todd, “In terms of media coverage, you have to run within the Democratic Party” because anchors like Todd, “would not have me on his program” if he had run as an independent.

Sanders’s status as an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats has been the subject of subtle digs throughout the campaign, first from Martin O’Malley and then from Hillary Clinton, both of whom have suggested that Sanders doesn’t deserve votes in the Democratic Primary because, well, he isn’t really a Democrat.

As Politico has previously reported, Sanders initially wanted to run as an independent, but was persuaded by his advisors to run as a Democrat instead.

News of Sanders’s calculation has produced some quick takes that are, for lack of a better word, bad:

“If he had this kind of support, he’d get [media coverage]” is a completely circular argument. The only reason Sanders has this kind of support, and the only reason we’ve been able to measure it, is because Sanders chose to run in the Democratic primary. If Sanders had run as an independent, he would not have been included in Democratic debates and town halls. He would not have been on Democratic ballots, which means he would not have beaten Hillary Clinton in a handful of states — a primary driver of media coverage. Perhaps most importantly, he would not have been included in Democratic primary polling, which is the only way we were able to tell pre-February that his large crowd sizes were anything other than a lefty version of Ron Paul’s “revolution.”

Bernie Sanders, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Bernie Sanders, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Loyal, partisan Democrats don’t have to like it, but the simple fact is that running within the two-party system is, with strikingly few exceptions, the only way to get taken seriously as a presidential candidate. The media, perhaps with good reason, covers candidates they think have a chance of winning. Independent candidates have no such chance, so if you want to be part of the national conversation, you have to run with a consonant next to your name. If you run as an independent, the sheer futility of your campaign means that no one has to take you seriously.

To rephrase Jamil Smith’s point, if he was correct, Sanders would have followed his advice. But he isn’t, so Sanders didn’t.

As for Woodhouse’s charge of “fraud,” well, lol. Was Sanders’s choice a political calculation? Absolutely. Was it fraudulent? Hardly. Woodhouse would have us believe that Sanders’s desire to be covered by the media betrays a lack of principle on his part. To the contrary, it was the best way to state his principles in front of the widest audience possible! Nevertheless, Woodhouse, who works for the Clinton-aligned super PAC, Correct the Record, has spent the morning insisting that if Sanders were a real democratic socialist, he should have run as a Democratic Socialist. Why, Woodhouse asks rhetorically, didn’t he?

The answer is really simple: media coverage.

Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that when Sanders was considering entering this race, no one — I’d bet not even Sanders himself — thought he had a chance of winning anywhere outside of Vermont and maybe New Hampshire. He was best understood as a protest candidate — a vehicle for voters frustrated with the Democratic Party’s economic centrism to vent a little before casting their ballots for Hillary Clinton in November. If Sanders was lucky, he’d do well enough to force Clinton to move a bit in his direction on an issue here or there.

However, it just so happens that there are a whole lot of those voters currently under the umbrella of the Democratic Party, and Sanders stumbled upon them. These are voters who, in a proportional representation system, would be casting their ballots for the Greens or the Social Democrats, but since they’re stuck in a majoritarian system they are forced to vote for the left-er of the two parties if they hope to gain representation. They would never be able to support Sanders as an independent, because it would amount to de-facto support for the Republican nominee. But they sure as hell can support him in a primary.

Bernie Sanders is running as a Democrat even though he isn’t a “real” Democrat? Great. There are plenty of voters out there who vote Democratic even though they would, if given the choice, identify with a party to the Democrats’ left. Our majoritarian system demands calculations like these — both from our voters and our candidates. It isn’t “fraud” to play the hand you’re dealt.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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27 Responses to “Bernie Sanders says he ran as a Democrat in order to get the media to cover him. Good.”

  1. Max Morris says:

    If he ran as an independent and we had a three-way race, that’d be an automatic Republican win if he had this kind of support. It’s a no-brainer. If for some reason the electoral votes did manage to split three ways, with nobody over 50%, then The House of Representatives decides the election, which is again a Republican win.

    So in other words, he was doing Democrats a huge favor by not running as an independent.

  2. Deborah West says:

    FDR perpetrated the biggest fraud known to mankind. Social Security. When Social Security was conceived, the average life expectancy was only 59. Roosevelt knew this and intentionally had the retirement age set at 65. It was to make the people pay into the funds all their lives with very little chance of every collecting. An intentionally fraud pulled on Americans. Wow, did we ever fool old FDR by increasing our life spans. And Social Security did NOT start out as an ‘entitlement’. It was, and is, insurance. A worker pays pays premiums and so does the employer. The government was supposed to be investing and safe guarding those funds.

  3. Deborah West says:

    You are so wrong. It IS fraud. It’s lying, cheating and stealing from the Democratic party. He’s as big of a con-man as he says Trump is. There’s NO difference. Sanders is a bum that USED the system for his own gain. He deceived people into believing something about him that wasn’t true, and he knew it!!!!That is the definition of FRAUD.

  4. ComradeRutherford says:

    You are only talking about recent history, the last 40 years.

    Socialism is NOT extremism. These are the CORE VALUES of the Democratic Party. Recently, no Serious Democrat supports those values, and they side with the GOP to join forces to impoverish the middle class with things like “Free Trade” or the GOP’s ACA approach to health insurance.

    TOP further show how wrong you are, here is the list of Democrats who implemented hardcore Socialist ideas:

  5. ComradeRutherford says:

    Barely won.

    History shows that (on the state and local level) when Democrats run on the platform of core Democratic Party values – Bernie’s platform – they turn out more voters and win by wider margins. When they “Pivot to the Center” (which is accomplished by being hostile to those core values) the election results are less spectacular. The Democratic Leadership knows this. When they run right-of-center Dems, like a Clinton or Obama, they run the risk of losing to the GOP, which is better in their minds than having an actual Democrat win.

  6. Tom Crutcher says:

    I think it calls into question the honesty of his fundraising boasts. I think it’s fair to suspect that some people who gave him their $26.00 something-whatever would not have done that if he hadn’t called himself a democrat. Unless he was up front with everyone and told them-“I’m not really a democrat, but that’s the best way to get media coverage.” I doubt he did that. You could argue whether on some pure philosophical plane that should matter. I’m sure that being the self righteous fellow that he is, Bernie believes that it’s not fundamentally important that he split those kinds of hairs because he knows what is best for the people. But that shouldn’t be his choice. It should be the choice of anyone who gave him money to decide, however limited their appreciation for what is really important to them may be, whether they want to give money to someone who calls himself a democrat, but really isn’t.

  7. heimaey says:

    I’m in the party but I will likely be leaving it.

  8. jgmitzen says:

    ACA, got bin Laden, got the Somali pirates, gave no save haven to Al Qaeda, reformed student loans, regulated Wall Street, got a peaceful resolution with Iran over nuclear weapons, signed an historic climate change accord, helped fight for LGBT rights and marriage equality achieved during his second term… Phony political promises?

    Sorry, if you think Obama’s been a bad president, you’re either a Tea Partier or some sort of radical extremist who doesn’t belong in the Democratic party. We Democrats would have given Obama a third term if we could.

  9. jgmitzen says:

    The Democrats don’t run socialists and never did, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. The Democrats don’t win when they run extremists or candidates with no distinction.

    Hillary and Obama were rated some of the most liberal Senators in Congress; sorry. If you want more to the left you’d need a Communist. We’re not running Communists.

  10. jgmitzen says:

    Only Democrats get to decide what a Democrat should be. If you’re not in the party, you don’t get to decide.

    Hillary was one of the most liberal people in the Senate and voted with Sanders 93% of the time. It’s sad Bernie supporters don’t support Bernie, but rather make up reasons to hate his opponent. That’s why Bernie is losing.

  11. jgmitzen says:

    TAKING MONEY IS NOT BAD. Get over it. Take money from whomever throws it at you. You people said the same thing about Obama; how did that turn out? Heck, Bill Maher gave Obama $1 million yet Obama won’t appear on his television show. That alone disproves this whole “taking money is evil” nonsense.

    Bernie’s taking money while lying about his still having a good chance to win the race. Now THAT is immoral.

  12. jgmitzen says:

    We don’t run socialists, yet we won the last two presidential elections.

  13. pbr90 says:

    This carefully engineered maneuver shows Sanders is not a Social Democrat as he claims, or is simply willing to do anything to win, just like the GOP candidates. wHich is it?

  14. WarrenHart says:

    I cant see the future but I do have pretty good common sense.

  15. WarrenHart says:

    I meant Bernie Sanders, obviously. President Obama has been a great president so I dont have anything negative to say about him

  16. ComradeRutherford says:

    If one inspects the historical record, the Democrats ALWAYS lose when they eschew the very values that Bernie espouses. Always.

    Democratic Voters don’t really want moderate Republicans like Hillary or Barack. They much prefer actual Democrats, but they almost ever get them.

  17. ComradeRutherford says:

    No, he’s describing the Clintons!

  18. ComradeRutherford says:


  19. ComradeRutherford says:

    What is today called ‘socialism’ that Bernie espouses, is more accurately referred to as the Core Values of the Democratic Party. The Dems **always** lose to the GOP when they do NOT support these core values.

  20. Max_1 says:

    Political calculations… LIKE:

    Taking money from fossil fuel industry?
    Or, telling the voters that CO2 is important to curb?

    Taking money from the private prison industry?
    Or, telling voters that the black incarceration rate is too high?

    Taking money from the pharmaceutical industry?
    Or, telling voters that universal health care is a can’t?

    Saying BLM?
    Or, dismissing any BLM protestors?

  21. EW says:

    As the above article as but spelled out, Bernie wouldn’t have the resources to run if he didn’t have the Democratic Party to raise his profile.

  22. 2karmanot says:

    ” played every underhanded scheming angle in the book and made every phony political promise he knew he couldn’t keep and he couldn’t do it” Er, did you mean Obama?

  23. heimaey says:

    Apparently you can see the future? It doesn’t look good for him but it is not impossible just yet. If Sanders is scheming he’s scheming to get the party more to be liberal. Had he run as an independent he’d have split the vote and let the republicans win – would you have wanted that? By you people I suppose you mean me as a Sanders supporter and not a minority?

  24. It’s better for progressives overall. Gives independents a voice, a choice, and has the chance of bringing them into the Democratic party. It is also a chance for a protest vote without endangering Democratic chances in the general like with Nader in 2000. I think all Hillary supporters should stop trying to denigrate Bernie, and instead be thankful he is running in the primary rather than running in the general as an independent.

  25. WarrenHart says:

    Bernie Sanders isn’t going to win the primary, much less the general election, so you think Democrats should run more liberal candidates so they could lose like Bernie Sanders I guess. Seriously, Bernie Sanders played every underhanded scheming angle in the book and made every phoney political promise he knew he couldn’t keep and he couldn’t do it, hell, he even ran in a political party that he was not a member of. I dont understand you people.

  26. WarrenHart says:

    He shouldn’t have gotten as much positive media attention as he’s gotten.

  27. heimaey says:

    Clinton isn’t the real Democrat – the party has shifted so far right that Sanders is the most like what a democrat should be. This is what happens when liberals make so many concessions to the right over 40 years; they allow them to go so far right that someone like Hillary is supposed to be a “liberal.”

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