The conventional wisdom is that Bernie Sanders is a victim of his own success. His “populist agenda has helped push the party to the left,” declared The New York Times in its story about his presidential announcement. But in 2020, he may lose “ground to newer faces who have adopted many of his ideas.”
There’s an obvious truth here: From a $15 national minimum wage to Medicare for all to free college tuition, Sanders’s opponents have embraced policies that were considered radical when he first proposed them during the 2016 campaign. But what the Times misses is that there’s another policy realm where Sanders may find it easier to carve out a distinctly lefty niche: America’s relationship to the rest of the world.
In 2016, foreign policy was the area where Sanders distinguished himself least. For the first five months of his candidacy, his campaign website didn’t even include a foreign-policy section. At a debate on November 14, 2015, when the moderator, John Dickerson, asked Sanders about the ISIS attacks that had killed more than 100 people in France the previous day, the Vermont senator dispatched the subject in a mere two sentences and then pivoted to domestic affairs.
This time, by contrast, Sanders arguably talks about foreign policy more than any other declared candidate does. Of the four senators who launched their candidacies via video—Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Sanders—only his mentioned foreign policy. Over the past two years, Sanders has given two speeches outlining a broad foreign-policy vision. (Warren has delivered one, last November at American University, which she paired with an essay in Foreign Affairs. Booker, Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand haven’t given any.) And of the senators running for president, Sanders owns the biggest foreign-policy victory of the last Congress: the vote to end U.S. funding for the Saudi war in Yemen.