Bernie Sanders’s quest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is very unlikely to succeed, but his campaign has become an unlikely internet sensation, with Sanders content dominating social shares and driving coverage decisions. He’s changing the conversation in American politics with an unusual — and effective — brand of politics.
Sanders’s virality doesn’t show that he has a chance to win. If anything, it’s the opposite. His virality stems, in part, from the fact that he isn’t even trying. Most politicians are trying, on some level, for mainstream influence. Even a long-shot candidate like Martin O’Malley really might become the Democratic nominee if Hillary Clinton is struck by lightning or suffers some unforeseen meltdown.
Sanders isn’t like that. He’s not going to win no matter what, and he knows it. After all, he is an avowed socialist with zero interest in big-dollar fundraising who’s not afraid to say he thinks the US should fundamentally transform itself into a different kind of country.
That leaves him free to just come out and say things that nobody making a serious bid for national office would say. Case in point: his recent exchange with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. Here, Sanders praised the Nordic social model. When Stephanopoulos said it would be impolitic to say America should emulate foreign nations, Sanders said he didn’t care. Sanders isn’t going to be president no matter what he says to George Stephanopoulos, so he might as well say what he thinks.
That’s not really a path to victory, but it’s certainly a path to social shares.