If there’s one thing that fires up Bernie Sanders supporters—and makes his detractors roll their eyes—it’s his call for a “political revolution.” To his base, it’s the very point of his anti-establishment, anti-elite candidacy. To his critics, it’s the very embodiment of his campaign’s naïve impracticality and vagueness.
But now that voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have spoken, it’s time to take the idea of political revolution more seriously—more seriously, indeed, than Sanders himself appears to have. It’s time to ask: What exactly would it take?
It starts with Congress. And here it’s instructive to compare Sanders and Donald Trump. Both rely on broad, satisfying refrains of “We’re gonna”: We’re gonna break up the big banks. We’re gonna make Mexico build the wall. We’re gonna end the rule of Wall Street billionaires. We’re gonna make China stop ripping us off.
The difference is, Trump’s refrains are more plausible. That’s because today’s Congress is already willing to enact many of his proposals, whether repeal of Obamacare or severe restrictions on immigration. And if Trump became president, the 115th Congress would very likely be more conservative than the 114th.
For Sanders to deliver on his “We’re gonna” pledges, he needs an entirely different Congress. How to get it? Thus far, Sanders has laid out a theory of action that is basically, “If I come, they will build it.” That is, if he electrifies enough voters to win, then presumably those voters will have upended Congress as well. He’s banking on an electoral flood tide à la 1980, 1964, or 1932.