As far as the media goes, Bernie Sanders has spent most of this primary campaign the same way he has spent the majority of his political career to date: being belittled, dismissed or just outright ignored. We’ve heard that the Democratic party has so fully embraced his agenda that his presence isn’t really necessary, that his rampant youth support was going to be siphoned away by newer, younger and more dynamic candidates like Beto O’Rourke, or that he doesn’t tick the exact right demographic boxes to satisfy those who want the Democratic Party leadership to look more like the diverse coalition it is meant to represent. Yet throughout the process he’s had a very high floor in the polling averages, he’s been drawing huge crowds across the country, he’s picked up multiple key endorsements from the exciting young progressive congresswomen who represent the shifting political alignment in the party and from activist organizations like the Sunrise Foundation. He’s got a volunteer army knocking on doors, making calls and sending texts. And perhaps most importantly, he’s been out-fundraising all his opponents in the primary race by a significant margin.
It was the latest release of fundraising numbers that triggered something somewhat unthinkable to those that have been following Sanders’ campaign and the almost comically blatant accompanying media blackout: a spattering of stories of reluctant “Bernie might win” takes from mainstream journalists. As a natural defense mechanism, many were instantly suspicious of this and have spent the last two weeks or so waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is safe to say that the shoe’s time has now come.
The catalyst seems to have been influential pollster Des Moines Register/CNN placing Bernie in first place in the early battleground state just a few weeks away from the first primary, which has set off a completely hellish weeklong news cycle that is most likely a strong indication of what we can expect as we move into the actual election season. The majority of the media oxygen this week was taken up with the burgeoning Warren/Sanders feud, which was disappointing for many of those who were hoping their nonaggression pact could extend indefinitely — especially when it seemed like the Warren campaign was feeding the flames throughout the week in conjunction with mainstream journalism outlets like Politico and CNN, while simultaneously and bizarrely claiming to be the victims in the entire situation.
Since the dust-up has been extensively covered pretty much everywhere, we don’t need to recap every single sordid detail, but it was certainly frustrating for supporters of Bernie’s candidacy that a crucial week in the run-up to the first primary was spent not going after the indefensibly terrible record of the frontrunner, but instead analyzing a slow-motion denied handshake video like it was the Zapruder film and debating which emojis do and do not count as misogynistic harassment.
Republicans up to and including President Trump also seem to be noticing that Bernie has a very credible shot at winning the Democratic nomination. And although we’ve all been told for several years now that no one has ever really attacked Sanders and that he’d be “destroyed” as soon as the morally vacuous smear machine in and around the Republican Party establishment focused on him like the Eye of Sauron, they don’t seem to have anything all that compelling to say. Some Trump fundraising emails have hit Bernie with the dreaded “he owns three houses” attack that has been constantly employed with little effect for years now by online MSNBC fans that have words like “snarktivist” in their Twitter bios. Project Veritas founder and and near-felon James O’Keefe long-promised bombshell fell extremely flat when it turned out to be grainy spy footage of a guy with a disparate connection to the campaign drinking beer and committing the egregious crime of doing memes from /r/FULLCOMMUNISM in real life.
This is all very asinine, it’s hard not to want to gouge your eyes out if you’re completely immersed in it, and everyone should keep in mind that as this election progresses, it is all going to get so much worse. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. After the very contrived and desperate-feeling Warren feud, Bernie came across as someone who has integrity and is above those kinds of dirty political games (the same cannot be said for Warren’s campaign). Early indications are that the dreaded conservative propaganda machine is a paper tiger whose tired red-baiting shtick has zero purchase with the type of voter Bernie is talking to, who have been systematically disenfranchised and devastated by the bipartisan neoliberal consensus of the last 30 years, which Sanders has spent his entire political career railing against.
And although polls should always be analyzed with a healthy dose of skepticism, the first post-debate sampling shows Bernie gaining on or perhaps even overtaking Biden as the most popular democratic candidate. Although the media noise surrounding his campaign can feel oppressive and demoralizing to supporters, they should also be encouraged: it certainly seems like the closer we get to actual votes being cast —which coincides with the majority of voters actually starting to pay attention—more people are flocking to Sanders as the best (or to use a beltway media term, electable) candidate.