A compromise bill might end up looking a lot like Buttigieg’s or Warren’s public-option proposals. And even though that idea repulses some on the left, most of the Sanders devotees I spoke with said they would see a public option as a major victory. “I understand if Bernie is the nominee and he puts forward a breathtakingly ambitious agenda to Congress, Congress is not going to swallow that hook, line, and sinker,” said Mike McCabe, the executive director of Our Wisconsin Revolution. “If not enough people are willing to embrace [Medicare for All] but we’re still able to make a significant step forward … that still would be an amazing outcome for millions of families in this country.”
Comments like these elicit grumbles of “hypocrisy” from supporters of other Democratic candidates who have been saying for months that Medicare for All is much less politically feasible than a public option. But when I questioned Sanders backers on this point, each of them replied that, by campaigning on something as far-reaching as Medicare for All, Sanders is the only candidate starting in the strongest possible bargaining position. “So often the Democrats compromise with themselves,” McCabe said, citing Buttigieg and his public-option plan. “They rein in their own aspirations; they limit their own demands. All that I know is that if you ask for a lot, you can get a little, and if you ask for a little, you get nothing.”
Many of them are still optimistic about passing Medicare for All; they believe that the same wave of energy and enthusiasm that will sweep Sanders into office in November will also motivate lawmakers to support his more radical proposals. Even if more conservative members of Congress are hesitant to support the health-care plan, some Sanders supporters think that a public-pressure campaign in their states—which the senator has vowed to wage—will help persuade them. “The optics of what we’re dealing with completely flip on [their] head once he’s in the White House,” said Skylar Hurwitz, a 27-year-old member of Our Revolution Pennsylvania who is running for the U.S. House.*
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But for the most part, the organizers I interviewed showed how his biggest defenders aren’t oblivious to the opposition his plans would face in Congress (not to mention from the interest groups that Sanders rails against). And as a Sanders nomination grows more likely by the day, it’s possible that we’re getting an early glimpse of the argument he will make to reel in hesitant Democrats during a general election: that a Sanders presidency won’t necessarily mean immediate, revolutionary change. It’s plausible, too, that Sanders supporters are tempering progressive expectations.
“I understand how the political process works,” McCabe said. “I understand that you don’t get everything that you want.”
* A previous version of this story misstated the office Skylar Hurwitz is running for.