The second presidential campaign of Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is on its last legs as former Vice President Joe Biden coasts to the Democratic presidential nomination, and at 79 years old, it’s unlikely Sanders has another run in him.
After a rough few weeks, Sanders now trails Biden by over 300 delegates, a seemingly insurmountable lead. While Sanders could stay in through the primary season as he did in 2016, most Americans have already tuned out the Democratic primary as the coronavirus pandemic rages. It’s not even clear that staying in the race would allow Sanders to effectively promote his message. The self-described Democratic socialist was re-elected to his third full term in the Senate in 2018, so he can still remain a force in American politics if he chooses, but a third presidential run in 2024 or 2028 would seem unlikely. So, who will the left turn to as its next leader on the national stage?
Tulsi Gabbard: Democratic Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ran a long-shot presidential campaign in 2020, but could she lead the progressive wing of the party next time around? Gabbard’s populist, anti-war message resonated in the early stages of the 2020 primary, but ultimately did not translate to votes. The 38-year-old Iraq War veteran became a hero on the left in 2016 when she stepped down as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) over her support for Sanders, who she felt was being treated unfairly by the party. Gabbard supports many of Sanders policies, and her early support for him in 2016 still earns her goodwill on the left. However, Gabbard’s past socially conservative views as well as her recent decision to drop out and endorse Biden for the presidency could come back to haunt her. (RELATED: Tulsi Gabbard Endorses Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income Plan)
Elizabeth Warren: Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has long been a progressive firebrand since entering public life, but her activities during the past two presidential campaigns have burned some bridges on the left. Warren refused to endorse Sanders in both 2016 and 2020, and clashed with the senator over sexism, and the actions of Sanders supporters, commonly known as Bernie Bros. Warren’s time may have passed, but it would be foolish to count her out. She will be 75 years old in 2024, which is the same age Sanders was during his first campaign. She has the unique ability to unite both the progressive and establishment wing of the party, and her policies still line up with Sanders more than any other senator. Warren supports Medicare for All, free college, and the Green New Deal. (RELATED: Flashback: Elizabeth Warren Became Rich By Defending The Rich)
Nina Turner: The former Democratic Ohio State senator is beloved among Sanders’ supporters, and was one of the senator’s earliest supporters, serving as a national co-chair for his 2020 campaign. Turner has all the tools that a presidential candidate would need. She is charismatic, passionate, and comes across as a true believer in left-wing causes. Turner would frequently fire up the crowds ahead of Sanders’ rallies, and make cable news appearances in support of the senator. Turner also is the president of Our Revolution, a political action committee (PAC) that supports left-wing candidates, and consists of many former Sanders staffers. Turner is already beloved and trusted by the left, and seems like a natural heir to Sanders.
Ro Khanna: Democratic California Rep. Ro Khanna was an early supporter of Sanders in 2016, and co-chaired the senator’s 2020 campaign. The congressman does not call himself a socialist, instead referring to himself as a “progressive capitalist.” Khanna has adopted a similar anti-war message as Gabbard, and has adopted a populist platform that could help him if he decides to run for president. Khanna also brought himself some good will from the left in 2016, when he became the first member of congress to join Justice Democrats, a left-wing group dedicated to electing progressive Democrats to Congress. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Bernie Sanders Co-Chair Talks To The Daily Caller: ‘The Political Elite Has Not Worked For Many People’)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Perhaps nobody has benefited for from Sanders political rise than Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The 30-year-old former bartender ran on a similar platform to Sanders’, and pulled off the biggest upset of the 2018 election cycle, when she defeated long-time New York Rep. Joe Crowley in her district’s Democratic primary. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Sanders in 2020, but reportedly backed away from the campaign after the senator touted the endorsement of polarizing talk show host Joe Rogan. Ocasio-Cortez has built up a devoted following on the left that will make her a force in American politics for years to come, but her focus on cultural issues such as immigration, abortion, and climate change could make it more difficult for her to run a competitive populist presidential campaign. Ocasio-Cortez will turn 35 a month before the 2024 presidential election, which means she would be eligible to run for the White House in the next presidential election cycle. (RELATED: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Falsely Claims D.C. Was The First U.S. Territory To Abolish Slavery)
While Sanders will never be president of the United States, his two campaigns have demonstrated that somebody with his ideas could be. Sanders has successfully mainstreamed ideas that were once considered fringe in American politics, and the five people above may be best positioned to carry on his legacy.
Of course, much of what happens in future presidential election cycles will be determined by what happens in this one. Will the Democratic Party be able to reconcile itself with the left after nominating Biden? Popular left-wing figures such as Chapo Trap House host Matt Christman and YouTuber Kyle Kulinski are among those on the left who have said they plan to withhold their votes from Biden in the general election. Biden’s pending nomination could lead to a split between the Democratic Party and the left if one side feels their interests don’t align with the other.