Whether he wins the Democratic Party nomination or not—and his chances are increasingly viable—the candidacy of Bernie Sanders has already won, by vastly enlarging America’s political conversation and possibilities.
Like Sanders himself, the significance of his campaign’s remarkable accomplishment should not be underestimated. Against the stultifying tidal wave of the Democratic Party establishment, a dismissive and persistently biased mainstream media, and a nearly 40-year party movement toward the center-right, Sanders has moved political mountains. His achievement reaches beyond his growing arsenal of delegates (amplified by his stunning Michigan upset), beyond his surging prospects as the Democratic nominee, and beyond any “moral victory” of pushing Clinton to the left (which history indicates would be temporary and tenuous at best).
Sanders has reinvigorated the national discourse with an unapologetic, unwavering progressivism—a powerful appeal that’s inspiring a broad swath, from New Deal/New Left Baby Boomers, to working-class and Independent voters, to tradition-skeptical Millennials.
Of course, he has not done it alone. Building on arguments advanced by the Occupy movement and a rising antiestablishment progressivism that has become increasingly forthright about the perils of deregulated capitalism, Sanders has opened up new political space and energy within and outside the Democratic Party. How this energy gets harnessed and directed remains an open question—but it’s more electoral power than progressives have had for decades.