Bernie Sanders is recovering from the procedure that put two stents in one of his arteries. It’s taken a couple days, but the media is finally using correct terminology. He’s tweeting about why Medicare for All is necessary. The campaign has confirmed he will attend the October 15 debate in Ohio.
We can now safely ask the crass political questions about the impact of his hospitalization. Say what you will about the candidate who isn’t even a registered Democrat, but the insurgent of 2016 is now the heartbeat pushing policy through the party’s arteries.
Elizabeth Warren is running on a version of his platform, and the two combine for 40% of the total polling support. Virtually all non-Biden candidates have adopted a chunk of his agenda. Beyond the presidential campaign, AOC and the Squad have built on Bernie’s foundations.
Given that, here’s what I’m curious about:
How Bad is This for Bernie? Assuming he shows up as planned at the debate, doesn’t sound hoarse like he did last time, and has a normal Bernie Performance, I don’t think it’s going to impact him that much. Unless it’s as a positive. Sanders will get more attention than normal.
Other candidates will offer him platitudinous best wishes, especially the younger ones. His strongest numbers are on health care. While the party is very divided on Medicare for All, and eliminating private insurance, for those who favor this, he’s the North Star.
Bernie often avoids personalizing things. Ok, everything. He doesn’t talk about his own biography much. He doesn’t do the thing where he tells a story about some random voter he met as an allegory for why legislation must be passed. He’ll probably act as though the stents were put in someone else. But this is a great opportunity for him.
He’s far firmer on Medicare for All than Warren. He’s unabashed in admitting that middle class taxes would need to rise to pay for a new benefit that would help middle class Americans. Going after the guy who just had a procedure is seven stages beyond gauche (though I can picture Julian Castro asking for his medical records.)
But time is running out for the lower tier candidates. They’ll need to go after Warren, who is holding more votes anyway, instead. There’s a scenario where Sanders perfectly channels his recent experience to argue for his signature policy proposal, while Warren stumbles, and he ends the debate in better position than he was in before the hospital.
Longer term, yes, this is a health question for someone who would turn 80 not long after inauguration. He will need to release his medical records in the next few months if he wants the nomination. However, my guess is voters will pay more attention to what they see on TV. If he seems like the same old Bernie, they’ll figure he’s not much riskier than before. Nominating a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist is a risk anyway.
Who Does This Help?
Andrew Yang. Something was already brewing. Yang brought in $10 million in Q3, up from $2.8 million in Q2. Only Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris are also in the double-digit millions for a quarter category. He did this despite being at 3% in national polls.
Yang was already beginning to gain traction with voters under 30. He was already one of the top consideration prospects for voters supporting Bernie. With much of the Sanders 2016 agenda co-opted by the field, Yang is the candidate with completely fresh concepts. Even Bernie hasn’t pushed for Universal Basic Income. Yang is the one candidate heavily discussing geo-engineering to combat climate change.
While I don’t expect a quick exodus from Sanders as long as he’s able to return to the trail by mid month, this does give voters an extra chance to look around. Yang isn’t yet another seventy-something. And he’s not another elected politician. Should Yang move past Harris and or Mayor Pete in the polls, he’ll finally get legit media attention. A stampede could ensue.
Who Does it Hurt?
Biden. This arguably hurts Biden more than Sanders. You can argue that the former Veep was prone to verbal incoherence long before he was old. You’d be correct. It’s still not a good look (or sound) when voters are thinking about candidate mortality. Sanders is rarely caught off guard. He’s had a similar script since Biden was a young senator.
It’s more likely Joe will remind voters and media of his age than Bernie. The campaign is already dealing with the Trump-Hunter-Ukraine-Maybe China thing. While that could easily indirectly help Biden, it’s a lot for a campaign to balance. And nobody has accused Team Biden of being nimble.
We’re in the dangerous period where there’s enough info for me to opine, but not enough to be that sure. I guess that’s the whole point of punditry. Please hold for future developments.