The Nina Turner Show: The Third Party Debate with Nick Brana
At the People’s Summit 2017, Nina Turner and Nick Brana of Draft Bernie for a People’s Party debate whether or not the Democratic Party can be used to facilitate real, progressive change
NINA TURNER: Hello Nick Brana, how are you darling?
NICK BRANA: Hello, Senator Nina Turner. It is just such a pleasure.
NINA TURNER: It’s such a pleasure to have you on the Nina Turner Show on the Real News Network. Thank you so much for joining me. And so you were part of the team. The national team in 2016 to help Senator Bernie Sanders become President of the United States. Share with our viewers a little of some of the things that you did on the campaign trail.
NICK BRANA: Yes. I was the national political outrage coordinator, so I was the deputy to our political director.
NINA TURNER: Yeah.
NICK BRANA: And in that capacity, I worked with the superdelegates. I saw …
NINA TURNER: Oh no, I gotta stop you right there.
NICK BRANA: Yeah.
NINA TURNER: You probably had one of the hardest jobs. I remember us talking on the phone about these “superdelegates.” What was that like?
NICK BRANA: That’s right. That … I had the job of, you know, I went to join Bernie, to join this radical campaign, and then I felt like I ended up with the one job that was stuck in reaching out to the establishment, and I had the job of going out, trying to talk to Democratic Party officials, you know, who were in bed for Hillary before even Bernie announced.
NINA TURNER: It wouldn’t have mattered who was running. They were in support.
NICK BRANA: Exactly.
NINA TURNER: Can we just say support? They supported her.
NICK BRANA: They had decided. Yeah. They had decided. 400 of them had decided.
NINA TURNER: So we saw Senator Bernie Sanders change the dynamics of the race. Not just for Democrats, but I would say America. Running one of the most popular, strong, determined, insurgency campaigns in modern history. And you were a part of that along with millions of other people. So we want to fast forward 2016, he doesn’t win the primary. He’s not the nominee. You and other people like you, you catch on to this energy that he started, because he always said that this was not about me, this is about us. That we need a revolution. That’s what he asked for, right? He said we needed a revolution.
NICK BRANA: Yeah.
NINA TURNER: So you decide to team up with some other folks and create Draft Bernie for a People’s Party. Now what’s all that about?
NICK BRANA: So my experience working with the superdelegates, I feel, gave me a preview of what was coming. When Bernie was going to set off, when he set off in November after Trump won to reform the Democratic Party, I said the party is way too entrenched to change. And some people had this impression that corporate money was kind of something that you could surgically remove from the party, as if it’s a tumor in an otherwise healthy body, but my work on the campaign, and my work with the Democratic Party before then, taught me that really, it’s not. Corporate money flows through the party’s veins, you know, and it’s embedded in the party’s DNA. And I thought, there’s no way to separate that.
NINA TURNER: What about our progressive platform, Nick? I mean what about … Right, the Democrats passed the most progressive platform ever, or again, at least in modern history. What about all of that? Why do you need a separate party? Is there anything that the Democrats can do to please you? And the people who follow and who want a third party in a two-party system?
NICK BRANA: There wouldn’t be. Millions of people have now seen our interviews, we have thousands of interviews across the country. There wouldn’t be that level of excitement if people did not feel like the Democratic Party wasn’t reforming. If they didn’t feel like, really we didn’t need a new option.
NINA TURNER: Aren’t you all just starting stuff?
NICK BRANA: Starting stuff?
NINA TURNER: Aren’t you just messing around with the two party system?
NICK BRANA: Well …
NINA TURNER: Aren’t you all just Berniecrats who are whining and complaining and can’t get over 2016? What do you say to people who say that?
NICK BRANA: What I say is that Bernie is the party now. Bernie is the Democratic Party. You know, he has, during the campaign, he built up, he essentially created a party. He built the following, he built the coalition, he built the donor base, the fundraising base, he popularized the message, the progressive message that we all stood for. And so that is the party, really.
NINA TURNER: But I think the Senator would disagree with you, wouldn’t he?
NICK BRANA: Really?
NINA TURNER: He wouldn’t say that he is the party.
NICK BRANA: I would say that he has the party behind him. The party’s behind him and what he stands for. And what we all stand for. It’s not behind, the problem is the institution. So the people are with him, both inside the party, the Democratic base, and outside the party, independents who adore him. He has 80-87% favorability with Democrats. 57-70% with independents. But he’s working inside an institution that is set up that prevents him from really expressing that. And so that’s why he has the ability, uniquely, having effectively built a party before to take that following, follow in the footsteps of Lincoln in terms of overthrowing the pro-slavery Whig party, and found a new party that really is genuinely progressive.
NINA TURNER: But Nick, some people would ask the question of Draft Bernie. If Senator Bernie Sanders could not even get himself elected, how is it that you think that he or other progressives could lead this movement out and away from the two major party system, but particularly Democrats, if he couldn’t even win a primary within the Democratic party?
NICK BRANA: Right. Well that’s because he was working within that party framework. And I do believe that he would have won. At being there on the campaign, I saw for every story that came out about how the DNC was stacking the process, you know, and you’re very well aware of this, there were a dozen more that never came out, whether it was just dragging their feet bureaucratically. So that’s what, he’s working within an institution that is incapable, really, of supporting what it is that we stand for. But he has the power to found it, take that following, and to form a new one. Just like the founders of the Republican party did, back when they were …
NINA TURNER: But that was so long ago.
NICK BRANA: It was so long ago, but the reasons that it happened, all of the conditions that had happened, exist today.
NINA TURNER: Well let’s talk about the conditions.
NICK BRANA: Yeah.
NINA TURNER: What were they?
NICK BRANA: So the conditions back there were, in 1852, the Whig Party approved a pro-slavery platform. But the base of the party was abolitionist. They wanted to get rid of slavery, and so what happened is that their voters didn’t show up. And the election was a disaster for the Whig Party. And now what happened after that is that those abolitionists, those early abolitionist pioneers came together and instead of trying to change the Whig Party, they formed their own party. They knew they had the base, the majority of the country with them, the majority especially the north, and the majority of their party base. And so they formed that new party. Today, the issues that divide people, things like, you know, they’re in the 60%, 70%, 80%, even 90% of public favorability, those progressive issues that Bernie stands for as single-payer, free public college. You get up into the 90s when you talk about things like getting money out of politics.
NINA TURNER: Paid medical family leave.
NICK BRANA: Exactly.
NINA TURNER: All right, when you start to talk about that and separate that from the progressive label, most Americans agree on women making dollar-for-dollar as a man. Most Americans, no matter how they swing politically, they definitely agree with that.
NICK BRANA: Not even just Democrats.
NINA TURNER: No, not just Democrats.
NICK BRANA: And so back then, the issue of slavery was actually very contentious.
NINA TURNER: No, you don’t say.
NICK BRANA: There was much more sharp divide over that in the country than there is today. Today there’s near unanimity like you’re saying, about these issues. It’s just, we’re locked out. We don’t have a means to power as progressives. Democratic Party has proved that it’s not a means to power, so we demonstrate a lot, we can meet, but until we have an actual path to institutionalize our power as progressives, and start winning office, then we’re never going to be able to implement what it is that the majority stand for.
NINA TURNER: Is this critique, though, only of the Democratic Party? I mean, what about Republicans, do they just get a free ride? I mean, why is the focus, Nick, some people would question why is the focus simply on the Democratic Party, when the Democratic Party has tried so hard to be the party of the people? Again, passing the most progressive platform ever. Why isn’t that good enough?
NICK BRANA: Yeah, so what I would say is that the Democratic Party is really the one … Trump is a symptom. Trump is a symptom of the fact that we don’t have a populist, working class party in the United States. A genuine progressive populist party. You know, there were polls that showed that Bernie would have creamed Trump. Another thing the polls have shown is that people still view Trump as the anti-establishment populist today. And so that really shows running neo-liberalism, running as an establishment party against populism, even if it’s on the right-wing, because people are so desperate to get away from the system, they’ll go to the right. The only thing that trumps right-wing populism is left-wing populism. And if we’re not going to get it in the Democratic Party, and we’re not, then we need to take matters into our own hands and we need to start our own party. And Bernie’s perfect to do that.
NINA TURNER: If Senator Sanders does not, for whatever reason, I know you guys have been working hard, you’re all over the place, and I certainly understand, and I know the viewers will understand why it is Draft Bernie Sanders for a People’s Party, even though you and I have had several conversations about the understanding that this is certainly bigger than Senator Sanders. But let’s just say for the sake of argument that Senator Sanders refuses to stop trying to save the Democratic Party as it exists. Then what?
NICK BRANA: Well that won’t change anything fundamental about where we are as a country, I feel. It won’t change the feeling of the hundreds of thousands of supporters that we have that the Democratic Party is not the vehicle of the political revolution. And so there will still be a need to create that party and to come together as a progressive majority in this country to create that party. Because just hoping that the same formula of competing inside the Democratic Party, which a Democratic Party that isn’t changing, and that no one, including Bernie, cannot unite people under, that formula doesn’t work. We’re replaying in so many ways what we did in 2016. The Democratic Party is not embracing progressivism, its messaging is entirely against Trump, and Americans are responding in the same way that they did in 2016. Back then they responded by not turning out to vote for the Democratic Party, now they’re responding by actually leaving the Democratic Party. They’re responding by going Independent.
NINA TURNER: And so the number of independents or people who identify as independent, that is the largest voting bloc in this country?
NICK BRANA: Oh, by far.
NINA TURNER: By far?
NICK BRANA: By far. Yeah the number of independents is about 42%.
NINA TURNER: 42%. 42% of …
NICK BRANA: And Gallup predicts that it’ll be 50%.
NINA TURNER: By 2020.
NICK BRANA: By 2020.
NINA TURNER: Yes, I saw that stat. So what would be your message if I were Senator Bernie Sanders, hair and all …
NICK BRANA: Right.
NINA TURNER: And that if I were Senator Sanders, seriously, and you were sitting across from Senator Sanders right now, what three things would you say to me to try to convince me that we need a people’s party?
NICK BRANA: The first is, I would say, Senator, you have done your best to save this party. Really, you have worked harder than anybody could expect to. I mean, you’re still campaigning, effectively, out there. And despite everything that you’re doing, despite everything that Trump is doing, in fact, that should be bringing people into the Democratic Party as an opposition to Trump, because he’s so unpopular, the party affiliation is still declining. Now what that tells us is that the American people are really leading us as a progressive movement. They are leading us into an independent alternative. And I think that as progressives, it’s our role to follow them. That’s the first thing I would tell Bernie.
The second thing that I would tell him is, Bernie, during the campaign you started with nothing. You had nothing. Hillary Clinton had the media, she had the money, she had the name recognition, she had the party on her side. All of those traditional political variables which are supposed to determine and constrain what happens, all Bernie had was his revolutionary progressive message and his integrity. And with those two things, he started a political revolution in one year. We have three years now, and we’re not starting from square one.
NINA TURNER: Right.
NICK BRANA: We’re starting with an infrastructure for a new party actually having been built by Bernie.
NINA TURNER: Then the third thing you would say to him?
NICK BRANA: And the third thing I would say is that the Senator has a chance now to lead, you know, the Senator’s 75 years old. He won’t always be around to lead the revolution. But he has a chance now to leave us with a vehicle that can always lead the revolution in the way that he has. And that’s something that, really, he has the unique ability to do it. I think that we could achieve it because people are continuing to leave, people are continuing to join independents. It could be done without Bernie, but if Bernie does it, we could have a new progressive party built around the issues that the majority believe in, and espousing the view that the majority of Americans want a major new party. We could have that in one year. And that’s truly remarkable, and that’s something that Bernie could give us.
NINA TURNER: Well that is quite a prediction, Nick. That Senator Sanders’ presence and his essence could do that. And you’re right. He ran such a strong insurgency campaign against the machine. Nobody thought he had a snowball’s chance in two hells, and he definitely proved them wrong by the people power. That we see right here today. The reason why the People’s Summit exists, the reason why it was born, is because of that energy and the synergy of Senator Bernie Sanders, and there’s so many activists out there just like you and all across this country who are asking people to do a new thing.
Well, Nick, thank you so much for interviewing with me today. And again, you are watching the Nina Turner Show on the Real News Network.