For two septuagenarian presidential rivals, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren make one hell of a dynamic duo. Since the first Democratic presidential debate, both of the “big structural change” candidates have often taken on the moderates of the 2020 pool together — namely, former Vice President Joe Biden, who found himself sandwiched between Warren and Sanders at Tuesday night’s debate as his rapidly ascending rivals called for single-payer healthcare, a wealth tax and a Green New Deal.
The coming stand-off between the two progressive heavyweights is easy to ignore when you’re watching them rip moderate incrementalism apart on a debate stage.
The coming stand-off between the two progressive heavyweights is easy to ignore when you’re watching them rip moderate incrementalism apart on a debate stage, like old two friends who met on a picket line. But the rivalry is heating up this weekend as Sanders officially receives the enviable double endorsement of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar — two out of four of the so-called House “squad.” Sanders also just picked up the endorsement of liberal filmmaker and activist Michael Moore. Warren is hardly short on endorsements herself. She locked down the Working Families Party’s blessing weeks ago.
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While relations between their superfans can be somewhat acrimonious, Sanders and Warren are both carrying the mantle of a resurgent American leftism that appeals strongly to young liberals and progressive lawmakers. But each new endorsement serves as a reminder that for all their combined power, Warren and Sanders are still on a collision course.
In most presidential elections, it’s assumed that the nominee must choose a running mate who offers a marked contrast of ideological viewpoints and experience — in order to appeal to a wide array of voters. This would put moderate 2020 candidates like Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris in a seemingly perfect position to be tapped for vice president by Warren or Sanders, if one of them were to bag the nomination. But for the sake of pushing open the Overton window another few inches, allow me to offer an alternative idea that would buck all conventional wisdom and shock voters.
What if Sanders and Warren ran together?
For a start, Sanders and Warren are each doing an exceptional job when it comes to fundraising and sustaining competitive placement in the 2020 polls. (Both campaigns have significantly more cash on hand than the supposed frontrunner Biden.) This is doubly impressive when you consider that Sanders and Warren are running mostly on small donations. Sanders announced in September that one million people had donated to his campaign. Two candidates who are popular enough to pull this off would make for a powerhouse White House ticket. Plus, given that Warren and Sanders’ grassroots donations mostly seem to come from college-educated, upper middle-class enclaves and working-class communities, respectively, a Sanders and Warren ticket could help bridge a rift that the Democratic Party has been struggling to repair.
Of course, if Sanders and Warren campaigned together, they’d also be breaking precedent. There would be no centrist running mate to “balance” the ticket. But is balance really the Democrats’ best shot at taking back the White House this year? Not if you’ve been paying attention to demographic changes in recent years. The most crucial voter blocs for the Democrats in 2020 will no longer be Baby Boomers, who tend to vote more consistently and conservatively — it will likely be Millennials and Generation Z, who now outnumber Boomers and who played an instrumental role in helping the Democrats take back the House in 2018. And when it comes to voting, young people tend to respond more positively to vision and authenticity then balance. In other words, is this candidate for real? Is their campaign rhetoric backed up by years of actionable service? Can I really trust them?
That’s what youth voters will be looking for next January, when the primaries kick off. And when it comes to vision and authenticity in 2020, Sanders and Warren are clearly ahead of the field. Will pushing in tandem for policies like Medicare for All and student debt forgiveness scandalize the pundit class and alienate some moderate voters? Undoubtedly. But moderates are not the future of the Democratic Party — nor were they the engine behind the GOP’s 2016 power grab.
This makes the rise of Sanders and Warren all the more crucial. Here are two popular candidates with enough ideological parallels to engage the swell of voters who’ve become disenchanted with the “old” Democratic Party’s fixation on bipartisan technocracy — especially the younger voters who uniquely felt the blow of the 2008 recession and whose futures will be scarred by climate change. A Warren-Sanders ticket would seize the opportunity of engaging these voters once again, and importantly — given Sanders’ age and recent health scare — it would also offer voters some assurances about the future of the party through 2024.
Donald Trump’s victory marked the beginning of a new era of politics, on both sides of the aisle. The unlikely ascension of young, working-class leaders like Ocasio-Cortez and the surge of the Sanders and Warren campaigns are evidence that more and more American voters are tiring of the status quo. Why kill this vital momentum by pivoting back to the old-fashioned rules of electioneering? If Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren make for an inspiring duo this early on the 2019 campaign trail, just imagine what they could do with the presidency, when Trump is gone.
Miles Howard is the author of “The Early Voters: Millennials,” “In Their Own Words” and “On the Eve of a New America.” His work has appeared in The Outline, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, The Hill and WBUR. His next book will look at the emerging wave of progressive Millennials running for public office.