Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders may have a tougher time than he expects locking down the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, particularly among minority voters.
Sanders and his team have been working on his progressive bona fides in recent weeks, trying to make inroads among minority — and particularly African-American — voters in early primary states like South Carolina, vocally embracing far left policies they believe will appeal to voters who didn't support Bernie in 2012. Wednesday night, though, proved that Sanders and his team still have a long way to go.
Sanders appeared Wednesday at the 'She the People' event in Houston — a conference dedicated to improving the role and amplifying the voice of women of color in politics. The event was billed as a "presidential forum," and in addition to Sanders, both Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had speaking slots.
When asked, "What do you believe is the federal government's role to fight against the rise of white nationalism and white terrorist acts, and how do you plan to lead on that in your first year as president?" Sanders responded by accusing current President Donald Trump of "demagoguery," and then launching into a platform speech about raising the minimum wage, expanding health care, and opening up immigration policies.
The crowd wasn't satisfied, and according to The Blaze, quietly booed and hissed at Sanders' answer.
Host Joy-Ann Reid, recognizing that Sanders hadn't addressed the issue of white supremacy specifically, tried to circle back with the socialist candidate, asking him again what he would do as president to address "white supremacist violence to protect our communities."
Sanders responded by noting that he'd been a champion of Civil Rights — back in the 1960s.
"Oh, right. Absolutely," he said. "I know I date myself a little bit here, but I actually was at the march on Washington with Dr. [Martin Luther] King back in 1963."
That's when the crowd really lost it, heckling "we know!" and pressing Sanders for a more comprehensive answer.
This time, Sanders responded by reminding the crowd that he was an early supporter of Jesse Jackson: "as somebody who actively supported Jesse Jackson's campaign, as one of the few white elected officials to do so in '88, I have dedicated my life to the fight against racism, and sexism, and discrimination of all forms."
It wasn't exactly what the crowd wanted to hear, and the booing and heckling continued.
Reporters at the She the People event seemed to downplay the incident, but it exposes a weakness in Sanders' campaign that has, so far, gone unaddressed: that while Sanders is a dedicated progressive and leans the furthest to the left of any current 2020 presidential candidate, he is a progressive of several years ago, and certainly not a progressive of today's "intersectional" political landscape.
By contrast, both Warren and Harris did much better than Sanders with the same crowd, even though their general policies don't differ much from Sanders', and in some cases — like with felon voting rights — actually fall to the right of Sanders' platform. Sanders, in contrast to Warren and Harris, seemed older and out of touch with how progressives present similar ideas, and focused on relying on his history as a progressive legislator to fill any gaps in his appeal.
That may have worked against Hillary Clinton, but it won't work against Kamala Harris. And the race is only just heating up.