Should Sanders Continue the Fight Outside the Democratic Party?
Draft Bernie founder Nick Brana discusses the relation of the Sanders movement to the Green Party and says the only way to inspire a similar kind of movement is by going outside of the Democratic Party
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
A little while ago, I did an interview with Nick Brana about his new attempt to recruit Bernie Sanders to become the head of a new political party. Drafting Bernie Sanders is the strategy. In that, I asked him about Green Party politics and other things, and we’re going to pursue a little bit more about this now. Now joining me again in the studio is Nick Brana. Thanks for joining us.
NICK BRANA: Hey, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Once again, Nick’s the founder and director of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party. He was the national political outreach coordinator on Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign through 2016, Democratic National Convention and went on to become a founding member of Our Revolution, which he left with some other Bernie staffers around the time of its launch. Thanks for joining us.
NICK BRANA: Of course.
PAUL JAY: I asked you this last time, but I want to pursue it a bit further. When I asked you why don’t you just do this through the Green Party, you gave an argument how you can’t just start from nothing and build a third party. You need to take some of the base of an existing party. Sanders has a lot of support, almost the majority in terms of he practically won the primary. Came close. How many of those people would actually leave if he left? It’s a little hard to say, I guess, especially with Trump in power, because a lot of people would be concerned about splitting the Democratic Party right at the time, in 2020, assuming Trump is running again.
But that doesn’t really answer the whole question. Because if Sanders is going to leave at a certain point because the Democratic Party is simply not going to be reformed, and we know there was a serious attempt to rig the election. I think Trump’s right about that. The DNC tried to rig it against Sanders last time. And if he’s poised to win, the rigging could get worse.
But then, why wouldn’t he then go to the Green Party, which already has a certain amount of national structure? The idea of building it from nothing actually wouldn’t be that. If Bernie were to move, he would take whatever he takes he would take it there. So why not take it to the Green Party?
To be honest with you, it seems to me a lot of the Bernie people just don’t want to work within the Green Party.
NICK BRANA: That is what I’ve found, so I think no matter which option you’re going to pursue, whether it’s a reformed Democratic Party, going to the Green Party, start a new party, it has to be something that inspires people. That’s what actually gives us the energy. Not all options will provide the same level of inspiration and energy to go down that route.
There have been a couple of Twitter polls which are the closest thing that we have now to kind of assessing where progressives stand after the DNC election right now, in the past week, and those polls, both of them asked progressives where we go from here? And each of those polls had thousands of respondents. They both said by a large margin, “Get Bernie to start a new party.” “Draft Bernie to a new party.” It’s very popular, that view.
Also, to answer your question, I would say that before, when the Republican Party was founded, and replaced the Whig Party, there were a number of other smaller parties back then who came together in the Republican Party ultimately. And those would be like the parallel to the Green Party right now. That analogy, before the Republican Party was formed.
PAUL JAY: Well, that’s what I was going to say. If you look at in Europe, the success of Syriza, one can debate – or maybe it’s not even that much of a debate – how it turned out with Syriza. But Padamos(?), the bigger parties, progressive parties that have had some electoral traction came about because there was a real overcoming of sectarianism. Many, many organizations got together and created this. Certainly, one of the things that’s been holding back this kind of politics in the United States is the kind of competitiveness and sectarianism.
So, how do you overcome that if you just create a new party which is already, right from its beginning, it’s in competition with the Green Party? And not only the Greens, there are some other smaller parties around.
NICK BRANA: During the primaries, a lot of Greens actually registered as Democrats in order to vote for Bernie. So, I think that Greens and most progressives in general, the large majority, are pragmatic about this. And if Bernie starts something, no matter what Bernie does, that is what people will do the most. I do think though that from what I’ve found from those two polls, from all of my experience dealing with Berners that starting a new party is something that really inspires them. The ability to create something new in response to that.
It can’t be underestimated, that factor, because when Bernie started his campaign, Bernie had nothing. You know? And we need to remember that. It’s one of the most important lessons of the campaign, about what works for progressives. He had no money, he had no name recognition, the party establishment was entirely against him. There was an anointed candidate. The media was entirely against him. Any one of those hurdles would have taken down a lesser candidate.
But Bernie succeeded in the way that he did in igniting this revolution, and doing so well in the primary, because there’s actually a currency that’s more valuable than all of those things combined: and that’s integrity. And that’s the ability to stand up and say what you believe in without watering it down, without succumbing to incrementalism. That’s the source of his power.
PAUL JAY: If Bernie can…
NICK BRANA: And that can be again.
PAUL JAY: If Bernie continues on the trajectory he’s on now — and he’s given no indication that he wouldn’t run again in 2020, within the Democratic Party, assuming he does that, and maybe he goes your route before that, but there’s no evidence of it, and as we played the last clip, he says, “For now, I’m working to reform the Democratic Party.”
In the first interview, we played a clip where Chuck Todd from Meet the Press asked Sanders about this, and Sanders says, “For now, I’m working to reform the Democratic Party.” But it seems to me the time frame of that “for now”, it doesn’t seem any reason why that “for now” doesn’t carry him right into running in 2020 and perhaps win. But if he does run, do you guys start working for that campaign?
NICK BRANA: Well…
PAUL JAY: If he does run within the Democratic Party?
NICK BRANA: …I think that’s something that everybody who is so inspired by this campaign would have to decide at that time. We’re very convinced that the Democratic Party is not going to be the vehicle to that in the end. And it comes down to that ability to inspire people and to really run on the message that resonates with people without watering it down. Which is something that, in the Democratic Party, I see 2018 coming up and 2020 even, and the Democratic Party, you know, the DNC, the party as a whole, is making all of the same mistakes that it made in the 2016 election.
PAUL JAY: Can I just say –- it’s not so much mistakes, it’s who they are.
NICK BRANA: No, you’re right.
PAUL JAY: It’s not a mistake.
NICK BRANA: They – exactly.
PAUL JAY: They’re corporate. Yeah.
NICK BRANA: They’re being themselves…
PAUL JAY: To use Bernie’s words, they’re part of the oligarchy.
NICK BRANA: Right. Right. But what that’s going to lead to is, in the Democratic Party, is that you’re going to have in 2018 another scenario that’s setting up to be just like 2016 where it’s all fear-mongering about Trump. And it’s all just, “Oh, my gosh, he is terrible, and therefore you have to come with us”. It’s this kind of like hostage-type mentality, and that we saw how well that worked in 2016, you know? And their refusal to learn that lesson is because the party, that mentality is so ingrained.
PAUL JAY: But that pressure will be enormous, which is why I frankly would find it surprising that Bernie doesn’t do this within the Democratic Party. Push the Democratic Party to its absolute limits and actually get to a point where he’s poised to win, and then if the rigging is such, if the manipulation is such, then you march out, but doesn’t he have to play this out right to the end?
NICK BRANA: That’s a question of how far we need to go and how much evidence do people require before they realize that the Democratic Party is not the ultimate solution, it’s not the ultimate vehicle. And the folks who are joining Draft Bernie, they have reached that conclusion already. You know, no more evidence is required. So, I would hope that we don’t have to go through kind of a disaster in 2018 before people realize that.
PAUL JAY: There is another organization called Brand New Congress, for example. There are a lot of people organizing to elect progressive Democrats and, really, primary right wing Democrat side of the party. Is that not an important phase of this? And if that has some success, that sets the plate for a real fight in 2020, but inside the party.
NICK BRANA: But the question is, what are most people paying attention to? Are you going to get the level of mass engagement that you had on Bernie’s campaign by campaigning on that message of “let’s take on Democrats inside districts and primary them”. I don’t think so. I think the only way that you’re going to inspire, really, the kind of movement that Bernie did is by going outside of the party where you can really express your progressivism without reservations. You’re not playing this kind of triangulation game, this incrementalism game, that has proven so unsuccessful.
Bernie spent one year, really, speaking to progressive values that the majority of Americans believe in. One year. And he built this political revolution. I think if we had four years to continue that…
PAUL JAY: Within the Democratic Party. Where the media was, and had to cover, that race.
NICK BRANA: Right. But now that he’s built that part, now that he has built that base, another option has opened up with the Republican and the Democrat. The way that the Democratic, and Republican Parties, were formed. By this kind of popular politician bringing that base that neglected majority, over to another party that can actually overtake the original establishment party the way the Republican Party did.
And that option is what has opened up now. And if we create a party that actually speaks to the majority values and positions of the American people in the way that Bernie did, I absolutely believe that we can replace the Democratic Party in four years.
PAUL JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll find out whether Bernie believes that.
NICK BRANA: (laughs)
PAUL JAY: Thanks for joining us.
NICK BRANA: Yes, of course.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.