"A lot of folks go where the money is, and I understand that, we live in a time of Citizens United," Sanders said in an interview when asked if he thinks other senators will start reaching out to red states. "People spend their lives running around the country, raising money to take on the Koch brothers, and the billionaire class. I understand that, but at the same time, Democrats have got to develop a strategy that supports the folks in Kentucky, and West Virginia, and in Tennessee and Mississippi and Alabama, and Wyoming, and Utah. That’s something we’ve got to do."
The question of whether Sanders will run for the White House again, and whether the senator is laying the groundwork for that now, loomed inescapably over the Trump-state tour. T-shirts left over from his last presidential run, with slogans like “Bernie for President,” dotted the crowd. There was more explicit encouragement too. “Hindsight is 2020,” one t-shirt read, a message that appeared alongside an image of the senator’s face. “Bernie 2020!” someone yelled out in Kentucky as the senator delivered his speech. On Monday, a new round of speculation swirled on social media amid news that Sanders will visit Iowa in August.
Whatever his political ambitions, Sanders now has a ready-made audience on a scale he did not have before he ran for president, and that he can summon on short-notice as a way to elevate his ideas. It’s evident he wants to use that platform to influence the direction of the Democratic Party.
“The current model has failed, very clearly,” Sanders said in an interview on Sunday in answer to a question about what he wants to see from the party. “We need new energy, we need working people, we need young people. We have got to stop the same old, same old.” As the senator works to advance his own political agenda, however, he too may need to show he can win over more voters than he did during the 2016 election.
In West Virginia and Kentucky, Sanders paired criticism of the Republican health-care bill, and defense of Obamacare, with his own idea of the kind of health policy the United States needs to implement in the future. “As soon as we defeat this disastrous bill, I will be introducing a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program,” the senator told the crowd in Kentucky, a line that was met with enthusiastic cheers.
A majority of House Democrats have now signed on in support of single-payer legislation, a threshold crossed in the aftermath of Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid, where the senator touted single-payer. In an indication that congressional leadership has not fully embraced the push, however, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is not a co-sponsor, though she has expressed support for single-payer health-care in general terms.
For now, Democrats in Congress are focused on defeating the Republican health-care push, and there are signs it is faltering. On Sunday, Republican Senator John McCain offered a grim assessment of the legislation’s prospects, saying, “My view is, it’s probably going to be dead” during an interview on CBS Face the Nation. Last week, McConnell reportedly conceded that Republicans may not be able to “agree on an adequate replacement” for the Affordable Care Act, and opened the door to potentially negotiating with Democrats to improve the law instead.