Campaign Calls on Bernie Sanders to Lead a New Party
Nick Brana, former Sanders staffer, says it’s time to give up expecting progressive change from the Democratic Party and that Sanders should lead his base in creating a new party
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, in Baltimore.
After the election of Donald Trump – I should say, after the nomination of Hillary Clinton and then the election of Donald Trump – a movement to elect Bernie Sanders, the people involved in that movement, had to decide what to do next: stay within the Democratic Party, or fight outside the Democratic Party.
Of course, everyone was waiting to see what Bernie Sanders would do, and he endorsed Hillary Clinton and actively campaigned for her, which was a matter of some debate amongst Sanders supporters. Now, there’s a new initiative: to create a new party and recruit Bernie Sanders to be the head of that party. Well, Bernie got asked about this on Meet the Press, and here’s his response.
CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you a question. Some of your former staffers, including Nick Brana, have a Draft Bernie for a People’s Party Movement. Essentially, they want to start a new political party. In the statement it said, “Despite Bernie Sanders’ monumental endeavor to bring people into the Democratic Party, people are leaving it by the millions. The collective efforts to reform the party cannot stem the tide of people who are going Independent, let alone expand the Democratic base.” What do you say to those efforts?
BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I say two things. Right now, we are in a pivotal moment in American history. We have a president who is delusional in many respects, a pathological liar, somebody who is trying to–
CHUCK TODD: Strong words, can you–
BERNIE SANDERS: Those are strong words.
CHUCK TODD: Can you work with a pathological liar?
BERNIE SANDERS: Well, it makes life very difficult, not just for me, and I don’t mean… you know, I know it sounds… it is very harsh. But I think that’s the truth. When somebody goes before you and the American people and says, “Three to five million people voted illegally in the last election.” Nobody believes that. There is not the scintilla of evidence. What would you call that remark? It’s a lie. It’s a delusion.
But second of all, to answer your question, I think what we need to do right now is focusing on bringing the American people together around a Progressive agenda. American people want to raise the minimum wage. They want to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. They want the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. They want the United States to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee healthcare to all people as a right.
CHUCK TODD: So if the Democratic Party isn’t that vehicle, then you would support something like that, but you still believe the Democratic Party is that vehicle?
BERNIE SANDERS: Now, right now… right now, Chuck, I am working to bring fundamental reform to the Democratic Party, to open the doors of the Democratic Party to working people, to lower income people, to young people, who have not felt welcome in the embrace of the Democratic Party.
CHUCK TODD: All right, I gotta leave it there. Senator Bernie Sanders, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir. Appreciate it.
PAUL JAY: So, did Bernie Sanders leave the door open, not just to the Democratic Party, but did he leave the door open to perhaps joining in a third party effort, if the Democratic Party is, as Chuck Todd said, not the vehicle to achieve the political objectives Sanders is fighting for? There’s some debate about that.
Now joining us is the author of that document – or one of the authors – is Nick Brana. Thanks for joining us.
NICK BRANA: Hey, Paul. It’s great to be here.
PAUL JAY: Nick is 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 the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and went on to become a founding member of Our Revolution. He left Our Revolution – that’s the organization that was initiated, or created on the initiative of Bernie Sanders. He left Our Revolution along with other former Sanders staffers around the time of its launch.
Thanks for joining us.
NICK BRANA: I’m glad to be here.
PAUL JAY: NBC interpreted Bernie’s statement as closing the door on whether he would in fact be even open to the idea of a third party run. How did you interpret what he said?
NICK BRANA: They did. But anyone who watches the field clip, as you just played it, can see that the only thing that he really said is, “Right now I’m working on the Democratic Party.” When Chuck Todd asked him again, you know, but if the Democratic Party doesn’t prove to be that vehicle, Bernie would not answer that question. He would not tell, he would not rule it out, basically, and that’s what Chuck Todd was looking for an answer for. And that’s because Bernie has kept the door open.
Because Bernie, I think, like the rest of us, understands that the Democratic Party, reforming the Democratic Party is something that is becoming increasingly bleak, changing that party – you know – the prospects of that. And I think it’s become very clear that Progressives don’t have the leverage with the party in order to be able to enact any of the things or to make them take us seriously, as well–
PAUL JAY: Now, you’re a former staffer of Sanders’.
NICK BRANA: Yeah.
PAUL JAY: Have you talked to him? What has he said? You’ve asked… you obviously must have asked him in one form or another to come head up this new initiative.
NICK BRANA: Yes. I have reached out, but those conversations are things that I can’t go into. Those kinds of… you know, discussions, unfortunately. But…
PAUL JAY: Well…
NICK BRANA: But, yes.
PAUL JAY: But he certainly seems by all his activity to be committed to what he just said, reforming the Democratic Party. One of the issues that’s been a fight both within the Democratic Party, in fact, even within Our Revolution – I think it was one of the reasons you and some of the other staffers left – is that are the Progressives, including Sanders, going to focus on this issue of primary and right wing and corporate Democrats, and really organize that fight? And/or is it just going to be about ‘defeat Trump’, which means if establishment Democrats are likely to win the seat, you’ll leave them alone despite what their politics are?
NICK BRANA: That’s definitely the direction that I think that the DNC is going. The DNC, with having elected Tom Perez,… he was specifically recruited, Tom Perez, to run in the DNC against Ellison and against other more Progressive candidates, specifically to oppose Progressive change in the party. You know, it was for that explicit purpose. And in the DNC election, the party showed that it was still… that it’s still fully in control, basically, of that vehicle. You had Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, making calls in favor of Tom Perez. And … also you had this incredible resolution where the Democratic Party, the DNC, said that it was going to continue to take corporate money to the DNC itself.
But most telling to me, Paul, is something that was never on the table in the first place. And that’s the… it’s something that we all espoused and agreed upon on Bernie’s campaign, and that’s the idea that the politicians themselves, not necessarily the DNC being hooked onto corporate money, that’s certainly true, but the politicians, Democratic politicians themselves being hooked on the corporate lobbyist and Wall Street billionaire money. And that was never even contested in the party, you know? And that to me… for it not to be even on the table, you know, tells me that the party is really not going to be the institution through which we can effect Progressive change.
PAUL JAY: But Bernie clearly is committed to this. Before the election, and Trump winning, which I don’t think many people expected – I don’t think Bernie expected it – but before the election, Bernie was talking about: everyone should run, the people should get involved, run for office; and there should be an organization, which I always thought that’s what Our Revolution’s role was always going to be, that would support what he called “candidates who support the political revolution”, and the various social and economic objectives, including single payer healthcare and such.
That meant primary and right wing Democrats were actually a high priority. Now, Trump’s been elected. Has that changed the dynamic? Has it changed it for Bernie? Has it changed it for others? Because now he shares a stage with Chuck Schumer who’s, like, the personification of the corporate Democrat.
NICK BRANA: Right. That would certainly be something that would need to happen. If he were to try to reform the Democratic Party, you have the primary, and obviously right wing Democrats. The reason that I don’t think that that would be successful is the same reason that Bernie’s campaign was so successful, kind of the same reasoning behind that. And that’s that actually reforming the Democratic Party doesn’t inspire the same level of kind of energy and enthusiasm that Bernie did on the campaign.
People are becoming increasingly dim about that, because the party has gone… has done everything in its power to try to shut that down and to try to show that that’s really… that there is no room for Progressives. You know, they have these two sayings. They say, “This is a Big Ten Party”, you know? And they say that, “we have to unite”. Well, what they mean, those have become code for, you know, we want your votes, Progressives, we want your money, but we don’t want to actually enact any of the policies that the majority of Americans want and that Progressives want.
PAUL JAY: How does this play out? Because this is all built around right now recruiting Bernie, and at least for now you don’t have Bernie. So how do you build this, and what happens if you don’t get Bernie?
NICK BRANA: I am confident that Bernie will join us when he sees that the momentum is really on this side. And that’s what I’ve seen – the people who are joining us; there are thousands of volunteers who are signing up to volunteer, we’re starting weekly national organizing calls, getting people involved in their community, collecting petitions for him, speaking to other Progressives, getting the word out. And that I think, once Bernie sees that the momentum within the movement is on the side of starting a new party, then I think he will join us. I think he will come with us, because he knows that no matter what he’s going to in the end, he needs those Progressives, he needs that energy; and what we’ve seen in what we’re doing is really inspiring, because it’s a reawakening, actually, of that energy and enthusiasm and hope from the campaign.
People say that it feels like the early days of Bernie’s campaign. Because in the midst of this horrible kind of narrative and all the terrible things that are happening with Trump, obviously, what led to Trump in the nomination process, the Democratic Party, all of that has just been so bleak for people; and … actually drafting Bernie to start a new party is something that’s actually offering a solution to all of these things, and people are reacting very well to that.
PAUL JAY: So, what do you say to the people who were, to a large extent, making this same argument before the election, and supported the Green Party and Jill Stein? Because many of the arguments they gave were that the Democratic Party can’t be reformed, it has to be done as a third party campaign. And they’ve been doing it, they have a certain amount of national structure. Why not do it through them?
NICK BRANA: Right. That’s a great question. We get it a lot. The reason is that, what the Green Party is trying to do, what the Libertarian Party is trying to do, it’s a really admirable effort to bring a diversity of perspectives into our politics. Even if we don’t agree with them, that’s what democracy should mean: diversity of perspectives.
But, that kind of effort, to build a third party that can overtake actually a major party, has never succeeded, that route to doing it. And so by that I mean, when a party tries to build itself up from nothing, from scratch, up into a party that can challenge the major parties, successfully, we just saw that’s what has never worked successfully.
We just saw in the general election the two most despised candidates going against each other. 82% of people told the New York Times they were disgusted with the election, and with the way it had unfolded, and yet still the Green Party and the Libertarian Party couldn’t break 5%. They couldn’t get the minor party status.
And so that tells you how effective those systems are at really keeping the third parties down.
PAUL JAY: Now, wouldn’t that apply to a third party you create? Even if you have Sanders?
NICK BRANA: Yeah. That’s what I’m getting to, is that there is a successful model, though, you know, for creating a new party, and when I started looking into this I realized that it was the same way that the Democratic and the Republican Parties have been created in the past. Those began as small parties and they became major parties; especially the Republican Party example was very apt, as having overthrown the Whig Party in just four years. So essentially that model is that; rather than trying to build up from nothing, where the laws that the establishment has created to keep down third parties, they attack third parties at the takeoff stage, so it’s really difficult to take off.
But what they can’t answer is what the Republican and Democratic Parties did, which is when you bring an existing base of millions of people over to a new party. That’s the model that Lincoln followed, for example, when he built a large following – he and others in the Republican Party…
PAUL JAY: But there is an example of this happening more recently. When Wallace… when Roosevelt’s Vice President, and I guess it’s around… I think it’s in 1945, at the Democratic Party Convention, where Wallace was expected to be nominated again as the Vice President, there’s a bunch of backroom dealings going on, enormous pressure, and essentially there’s a coup takes place, and Truman is brought in as Vice President. Well, Wallace runs on a third party ticket, and there you’ve got somebody who’s got enormous support, takes a whole section of the Democratic Party base with him – and gets trounced.
And I think part of the reason for that is then – and far more even now – the media simply marginalizes the person. Because the media is so part of the State, and they only want the two parties, and it’s one of the reasons the Green Party doesn’t break through, because the media simply will not let the Green Party have a platform. They’ll never let them be in a debate, and so on.
NICK BRANA: And that’s why an established candidate, someone who has built up a following in the establishment parties and then shown the limits of that party – you know, which is exactly what Bernie has done, which is exactly what Lincoln did – they built a majority following in their party when the establishment of that party had refused to acknowledge that majority. So basically there’s a party within a party that happens to be the majority. And you could take that party and you could make it a new institution that actually reflects what people want, which is what Lincoln did successfully.
To your example with Wallace, the difference there, I would say, was that at that point the Democratic Party still represented FDR’s kind of New Deal proposals, and so it was still an institution that had the respect of working people at the time. Right now, it has moved so far away from that. I mean, we basically have a one-party state. That’s what Chomsky calls it, and Gore Vidal kind of comically says it has two right wings, a one party State with two right wings.
Because of that, when you look at party affiliation, party affiliation back then in Truman’s time was very high for the Democratic Party. But it has declined ever since then as the Democratic Party has moved further and further and further away from kind of working class representation, until now when it’s reached historic lows, really, and the number of Independents just dwarfs the number of Democrats and Republicans – it’s much higher. It’s far higher.
And so we’ve reached this point where, really, there’s an ocean of Independents out there who are just waiting for someone to unify them, and that’s why I think if Bernie left he would take – you know, talking about the party within the party – he would take the majority of the Democratic Party. Or half, you know, to be conservative.
PAUL JAY: Well, you know what the counter-argument’s going to be, is that it would lead to the re-election of a second term Trump. Because you’ll have this split in the Democratic Party. That will be the counter-argument–
NICK BRANA: I think that’s the traditional kind of reasoning. The reason I disagree with that, is that you have this incredible situation in this country where neither major party gives voice to the majority of opinions in the United States. When you look at the political spectrum by representation, by Democrats and Republicans, you see that it’s actually a tiny sliver of the actual political spectrum of what Americans believe, and it’s far off to the right wing. You know, what Democrats and Republicans debate is far off to the right wing. They just constantly agree on that, you know, especially on economic and foreign policy, and there are more substantive differences in social policy.
But because of that, there is this vast electoral real estate in actually representing people; you go issue by issue and people agree with Bernie. You know, people want tuition-free public college. People want universal healthcare. People want actually to reinvest some of the money that we’re spending on wars abroad at home. People want… Bernie’s platform is the majority platform; when you look at the United States and when you actually look at those issue poll statistics, you realize that Bernie’s the moderate; by the opinion of the American people, Bernie’s a moderate and that’s why he’s so popular.
PAUL JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll follow this along, and we’ll come back to you in a few months and see how it’s going. Your big target, I think, is the one-year anniversary, is that right?
NICK BRANA: Right.
PAUL JAY: One year anniversary of the DNC convention, you hope to have how many signatures?
NICK BRANA: That’s right. We’d like to have at least 100,000 signatures. I think that’s very doable. There are people who are joining us every day, because they say that this is something that has reawakened the inspiration that they felt on the campaign.
PAUL JAY: Okay. Well, thanks very much for joining us.
NICK BRANA: Of course.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.