Dear Bernie Sanders supporters,
I've got some advice for you.
I am not one of you, but I've been in your position. You see, I interned on Ron Paul's 2008 campaign, and I've been involved in the "liberty movement" it started ever since. I understand what it's like to be overwhelmed — obsessed, even — with a candidate who represents your views better than you thought anyone on the national stage ever would. I know what it's like to see your guy surging on Reddit and other online forums and yet diligently ignored and undercut by the mainstream media. I remember how exciting it is when the fundraising figures blow past all expectations and you think maybe, just maybe, we have a real shot at this thing.
And I know what it's like when the establishment candidate takes more and more delegates and the prospect of your candidate's victory slowly but surely becomes mathematically impossible.
Of course, in a one-on-one race, Sanders has performed much better in 2016 than Paul ever did in the comically crowded Republican fields of 2008 and 2012. But particularly following the New York primary last week — and with the Democratic Party's superdelegates sticking firmly to their establishment guns — it is increasingly difficult to make the case that Hillary Clinton will not be the nominee.
This is undoubtedly disappointing (including for me, insofar as I don't want Clinton's absurdly aggressive foreign policy anywhere near the White House), but it need not be the end of the line for you. On the contrary, now is the time to begin thinking beyond 2016, to begin building the durable movement you need to turn your passion project into a long-term faction of the Democratic Party.
To be sure, what this will specifically look like for Berners will vary considerably from the experience of us Paulites. Nevertheless, here are three ways to get started.
1. Learn your party's rules. A common theme of frustration among Sanders supporters this cycle has been the Democratic Party's superdelegate system. That's understandable, because it's a distinctly un-democratic system designed to ensure that the party elite can retain control. It's also understandable that it has caught you by surprise, given the interest Sanders has engendered in political independents and neophytes.
But don't let it happen again. If you want a real shot at winning your party's nomination in future cycles, learn its rules inside and out. Figure out how you can fairly manipulate them to your advantage. Now, the party establishment might well change the rules once they realize your plans — like the Republican Party changed its rules to screw over Paul at the 2012 convention — but learn them anyway.
Ted Cruz is winning delegates from Donald Trump at state-level Republican conventions precisely because his campaign knows the GOP's rules. Similar opportunities and loopholes no doubt exist in your party's structure, too.
2. Build organizational infrastructure. When Paul's 2008 campaign ended, his supporters didn't simply disband. Instead, two national activist and advocacy organizations — Campaign for Liberty (C4L) and Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) — were born. (Full disclosure: I have worked at YAL in various capacities since 2009.)
These organizations build and maintain our movement between election cycles, teaching new activists the basics of effective politicking, as well as providing a place for political education, discussion, and community. You'll need something similar if you don't want to start from scratch come 2020.
Because as much as Sanders frames his campaign as a movement, it isn't one — yet. The enthusiasm of 2016 "needs to be cultivated and channeled into something durable," Jamelle Bouie writes at Slate. "The energy of the Sanders campaign will almost certainly fade away," he adds. "But if the voters inspired by Sanders can gather their energy and become a part of the Democratic Party, they can win the influence they need to shift its direction in the long-term. And with their youth, they can play the long game, if they choose to."
3. Identify a younger generation of leaders. Speaking of youth, your guy, like our guy, is really old. At 74 and 80, respectively, Sanders and Paul cannot lead their respective followers forever.
Part of the reason for building your organizational infrastructure is that it will allow you to identify a new generation of politicians you can support. For us, it's people like Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), as well as up-and-comers like Florida's Rebekah Johansen Bydlak.
While it may be tempting to flock to someone, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who already has a relatively high profile, think younger. Your goal is to back principled, viable candidates as a long-term, movement-building investment.
Needless to say, none of this guarantees you'll win the Democratic nomination in 2020 or even 2024. After all, look at where we Paul supporters are this time around: Most of us consider ourselves candidate-less.
But that's okay. The point is not an immediate win — that expectation is a sure route to further disappointment. The point is to make it clear that you're not going anywhere, and you won't give up until you have a real seat at the table.