What’s more, Democracy for America and their Sanders-centric members have been extremely active in the 2016 primary season. In addition to email campaigns, old-fashioned door knocking, and contributing money directly to the Sanders campaign—DFA volunteers have participated in more than 90,000 phone-banking shifts, resulting in more than 80 million voter contacts, according to Chamberlain. That’s almost on par with the total number of calls that were made in all of 2012 by President Obama’s campaign.
Dean, however, sees the Sanders momentum as something much more nuanced than who should or who shouldn’t be president. Dean views the Sanders campaign as the basis for a larger structural change—just not a change Sanders himself will necessarily lead. “Bernie is not a creature of movements,” Dean said. “He’s an iconoclast.” Movements, Dean noted, take more than just passion. “He’s a very interesting guy, and what I’ve said … is, if he wants to have a movement, he’s going to have to hire some people to do it, because it’s not going to be him that does it. He can be the spokesperson, and he can motivate, and he can set the issues. But he can’t do the nitty-gritty work of fundamental change.” That’s tough talk. After all, candidate Sanders is explicitly creating a movement and agitating for fundamental—even revolutionary—change.
Dean—the ultimate party-organization man—may be more suspect of revolutions these days than he was 12 years ago during his own dynamic push for the presidency. It’s certainly easy to draw parallels between Dean’s 2004 campaign and Sanders’s run this year. Dean pioneered numerous elements of modern Democratic presidential campaigning: He used small-donor fundraising, grassroots organizing, a motivated corps of young people, and the latest technology—all pillars of Sanders’s current success. So it’s tempting to see Dean’s obvious discomfort with Sanders’s candidacy as cynicism born from experience or even just professional jealousy. But for Dean, it’s much simpler: He and Sanders were never preaching to the same choir. “Bernie’s … ideological place on the spectrum is different than mine,” said Dean.
Dean and Sanders each positioned themselves to the left of the Democratic mainstream—but the mainstream itself has shifted further left in the years between the two campaigns. “As I look back on it, the way I was running against the Democratic Party was because they were behaving like Republicans,” Dean explained. “Bernie’s big picture is fundamentally about the economic system, which I believe he’s mostly right about—not because he’s always been right, but because the economic system’s gotten worse and worse in terms of it’s fairness in the last 15 to 20 years.”
And even though many establishment Democrats have lost sleep over the divide that is gripping the Democratic coalition, Dean does not think there is cause for concern. “It’ll go away by itself,” Dean said. No one knows better than Dean how quickly a movement can evaporate, but Dean does think Sanders needs to play a big role in bringing out his voters for Clinton—preferably sooner rather than later. Going forward, a lot will depend on how Sanders reacts to an official Clinton nomination. “Nobody wants Donald Trump to be president,” Dean said. “They don’t want right-wing people in the Supreme Court. Hillary has to be gracious, and Bernie even a little more gracious. And it’s not in his nature.”