Senator Bernie Sanders emerged on the national stage in his 2016 presidential campaign. As an independent Senator and a self-professed Democratic Socialist, his politics were a radical change from the norm. Many pundits dismissed his following as a fluke, but his campaign was much more than that. His ideas have been embraced by millions of Americans that finally had a viable candidate that aligned with their values.
Why, then, is Bernie's second bid at the presidency not as successful as the first? The simple answer is that Bernie Sanders was successful in changing the political landscape in America. His policy proposals that gained little headway in decades of public service finally gained national attention and inspired a new generation of progressive leaders. His 2016 bid showed progressives that a far-left agenda was viable. Organizations sprung up to help progressive candidates and activism groups pushed an agenda once deemed "too far left" for the Democratic party. Activists flocked to the polls and helped progressive candidates knock out moderates in districts nationwide during the 2018 election. This brought new progressive leaders, like AOC, to the forefront of American politics.
That would seem like a great thing for Bernie Sanders, but his influence also demonstrated that progressive agendas can catch fire in a nationwide campaign. As a result, the path has already been cleared for younger candidates like Elizabeth Warren to carry similar platforms in the presidential race. Other candidates, like Beto O'Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, have incorporated portions of the Bernie platform into their own campaigns in order to reach out to progressive voters. This sort of thing blurs lines between the candidates, but it also signals to progressive voters that they have younger and more diverse options in 2020. In contrast to the 2016 field, Bernie Sanders finds himself in a crowded progressive lane this time around.
While Bernie may still be a thought leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, his dominance has definitely slipped. While still an important player, Sanders has struggled to fend off other progressive candidates that want the Democratic nomination. As the election cycle goes on, lesser-known progressive candidates gain recognition and support. Meanwhile, Bernie's support has slipped a bit in the polls. In all likelihood, Bernie will be overcome by a younger candidate that also represents a more diverse population as he jostles for position with a crowd that is running on similar ideas.
As the campaign goes on, Bernie will see his stagnant numbers slowly fall as other progressives (including Senator Warren) gain national attention. His 2016 run changed the landscape of American politics forever, but it did cripple his chances at the nomination in 2020. As far as his position as the main progressive leader in the Democratic Party, the era of Bernie is almost certainly over.