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Opinion: Columnists

Bernie Sanders could be the Ron Paul of 2016

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Opinion,Philip Klein,Columnists,2016 Elections,Ron Paul,Magazine,Bernie Sanders

When political observers talk about 2016 presidential candidates who may follow in former candidate Ron Paul's footsteps, they naturally think of his son, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

But a more appropriate person to compare Ron Paul to isn't his kin and isn't even a Republican. It's Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

At first glance, this may sound like a wild parallel. After all, Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist, whereas Paul is a libertarian. But looking beyond the ideological differences, there are number of similarities.

When Paul first ran for president in 2008 as a septuagenarian, he had already built up a cult following. He was able to tap into the frustration many Republicans felt as President George W. Bush deviated from limited government principles, and his sermons blasting foreign interventions appealed to those alienated by the Bush era. Paul didn't come close to winning, but he got his message across, and was able to build on his successes in his second presidential campaign in 2012.

There’s no doubt an opening for a candidate to run a similar style campaign from the left in the next presidential election.

In 2008, Barack Obama energized liberal activists with his stirring call for change. But many of those activists are disappointed. During his time in office, Obama cozied up to big banks, cut back room deals with the pharmaceutical industry, and passed a health care bill that funneled hundreds of billions of dollars into insurance companies without creating a government-run option. At the same time, he embraced drone warfare and the aggressive use of domestic surveillance.

Meanwhile, the frontrunner for the 2016 nomination, Hillary Clinton, was the person that liberal activists ultimately abandoned in favor of Obama in 2008.

Recognizing an opening on the Left, members of the political media have focused on freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as the one to fill the void. But Warren has consistently denied a desire to run and would be taking a huge risk that a failed candidacy against Clinton would damage her rising profile.

On the other hand, Sanders, who would be 75 years old by Election Day 2016, has nothing to lose. Nobody would expect him to win, and running could afford him an opportunity to go after big banks, talk about income inequality and climate change, and make the case for single-payer health care - among other of his favorite issues.

Also, unlike Warren, Sanders has been open about the fact that he's considering a run for the presidency. He's made trips to New Hampshire and Iowa, where the group Progressive Democrats of America is launching a campaign to draft him to run.

Like Paul, Sanders would launch his run having already achieved cult status among a core group of supporters. In December 2010, he was toasted by the left for an 8-1/2-hour speech he made on the Senate floor blasting a tax deal cut by Obama and Republicans.

One question if he does run, is whether he would run as a Democrat or an Independent. Running as a Democrat would make more sense if he wants to influence the conversation, because he’d be allowed to participate in debates – which Ron Paul used to elevate his profile.

In a podcast interview last month, in which Sanders reiterated that he was considering a run, Slate's Dave Weigel asked Sanders whether he thought Paul's presidential candidacies shifted the political conversation in America in the libertarian direction.

“The answer is I think so,” Sanders said, before adding broader historical reasons. He also said, “I knew Ron Paul when I was in the House, and obviously he and I had some very fundamental disagreements, but I respect him.” Despite their ideological differences, Paul and Sanders were allied on some issues, such as their opposition to the Federal Reserve Board.

Additionally, in the interview, Sanders said Obama's biggest failure was his inability to engage grassroots activists to pressure Republicans. “Instead of sitting in rooms, throwing dinners, or trying to work out agreements with the right-wing controlled House of Representatives, what he should have been doing in my view is rallying the American people around a progressive agenda,” Sanders said.

It’s a message that could appeal to many disillusioned liberals who wanted to see more fight out of Obama.

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