And he and the crowd were both clearly enjoying it in Reno when he directly took on the protesters holding a Trump flag off the side of a multistory parking lot. “Really?” he said. “Do you really want to give a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the 1 percent? Do you really want to throw 32 million Americans off the health care that they have?”
On the other hand, many of the candidates Sanders campaigned for lost, and many of the bigger calculations that would be part of a 2020 run are setting in. In a field this big and fluid, none of the candidates can claim their chances of winning are high, and Sanders has slowly accepted that he’d likely start with a much smaller share of the vote than he ended up with when it was a binary choice between Hillary Clinton and him in 2016. He is high up in the polls, and he might have high name recognition, but he’d be fighting for attention and votes in a field that could range from Elizabeth Warren to Mike Bloomberg, and include everyone in between.
Read: Sanders and Warren are heading for a standoff.
Imagine instead, say some Sanders supporters and some operatives working for competitors not eager to compete with him, that he sits out the race. He could then have everyone else spend the campaign appealing to him for support and living in fear of even a chiding tweet about straying too far from him on Medicare for All, college tuition, or anything else. He could boost or kneecap whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted. They’d all be dancing to his music.
To Vincent Fort, an early Sanders supporter and a Georgia state senator, the idea of being an outside influence sounds a lot like the argument that was used to urge him against getting into last year’s Atlanta mayoral race.
“It seems like you’ve got candidates putting up schemes or ideas to undercut his candidacy,” Fort said. “You’ve got people saying, ‘Bernie elder statesman, influence maker.’ The best way to influence policy in this country is to be president of the United States.”
Fort lost his race, failing to make the runoff round.
Abdul El-Sayed, who ran a Sanders-inspired and Sanders-endorsed primary campaign for governor in Michigan this year, which ended in a distant loss, said he knows jumping in again will be a difficult decision, but he hopes the answer will be yes. El-Sayed said he thinks Sanders will “make an extremely strong president.” And if it doesn’t lead to the Oval Office, El-Sayed said, “that race is more robust with him in it, independently of where we ultimately end up.”
Ro Khanna, a California congressman who in 2016 knocked out an incumbent Democrat on his second try for the seat, said he thinks Sanders should run again—and he has told the senator directly.
The goal, Khanna said, is “not simply occupying the presidency, but shaping the policy direction for the nation and the policy direction of the progressive movement and the country … I don’t think you can do that behind the scenes, being a kingmaker.”