Bernie Sanders supporters want to throw out most members of Congress by 2018. About that.
By Amber Phillips July 29

Bernie Sanders supporters protest as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton addresses the convention in Philadelphia on July 28. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

They didn't get the president they wanted. But maybe in two years, they'll get the Congress they want.


Over at Roll Call, Bridget Bowman (whom you should follow for all things Congress), reports that a group of 20 Bernie Sanders supporters are trying to organize a group to throw out most members of Congress in two years. (The Vermont senator can stay, obviously.) It's the Bernie Revolution realized, just without their guy in the White House.

It's the opportunity to "have this exciting presidential-style campaign with 400 heads," organizer Alex Rojas, who calls the group Brand New Congress, told Bowman. Bowman reports the group has raised $85,000 in 2 1/2 months, has amassed an email list of some 20,000 and plans to endorse 400 candidates (!) by summer 2017.

It's one of the most ambitious political advocacy plans I've ever heard of, not least because it involves taking on the entire Democratic Party that Sanders seems to have adopted to achieve its goal. Most notably, given Sanders's track record of endorsements so far — at the height of his popularity — they're going to need a lot more dedicated Sanders supporters than the movement has right now to make it happen.

First, let me say that switching gears to Congress and the 2018 midterms is a smart way to continue Sanders's fight and channel supporters' passion and frustration into actual electoral change. To quote President Obama this week: "Don't boo, vote." It's not uncommon for failed (and successful) presidential campaigns to shift to transition from getting their guy or girl elected into a broader mission of supporting candidates they agree with. [Howard] Dean for America became Democracy for America. Obama for America became Organizing for Action, and so on. Sanders's campaign itself may even do this.

Goals are nice. But realistic goals are more helpful. And throwing out most of the 535 members of Congress in two years seems pretty unrealistic, given the Sanders revolution has yet to throw out even one.

As his presidential campaign was winding down, Sanders started handing out more endorsements as a way to pass on his legacy.

(Sanders will be 78 when the next presidential campaign comes around, an unlikely age to attempt to launch another revolution.)

He's only had one win so far — breakout progressive star Zephyr Teachout, who in June won a crucial primary for a swing seat in New York's Hudson Valley — and she had the backing of more establishment Democrats, too.

In fact, Sanders is 1 for 3 when it comes to major congressional candidates he's endorsed so far this primary season. (With three more high-profile races to come later this month, not the least of which involves Tim Canova, a challenger to the embattled outgoing Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

[Is Debbie Wasserman Schultz in trouble back home in Florida?]

"To the extent we can draw conclusions from individual congressional races," I wrote in June, "It's this: There doesn't seem to be a Sanders political revolution happening, at least not yet. Sanders's endorsements seem to have come too little, too late in many cases." (Often just a few weeks before an election.)

There is, of course, recent precedent for changing a political party by focusing intently on congressional primaries. Look no further than 2010, when the tea party took hold by pushing a few established Republican lawmakers out of office and effectively instilling fear in Republicans who tack to far to the middle. Today there are several, powerful organizations on the right backing primary challengers and more conservative outsiders who might not have had a chance even a decade ago.

And to the extent he got involved in this throw-Congress-out movement, Sanders's fundraising skills and star power is unprecedented in the progressive community.

A two-year head start is a little better than a few weeks. But political reality tells us the Sanders revolution is going to need much more time than that if it wants to change an entire branch of government.