Bernie Sanders May Not Be A “Real Democrat,” But Here’s Why He Has To Run As One

This past week, Hillary Clinton has taken to criticizing Bernie Sanders on the grounds that she isn’t sure he’s a “real Democrat.” Like many, if not most, Sanders supporters, that’s not a thing I take issue with. I happen to prefer him that way.

Clinton’s point regarding this is not only that he’s “new” to the party – having served as an Independent candidate for his tenure as a Senator – but also that he doesn’t work to raise money for down-ticket Democratic candidates. However, given the fact that Sanders opposes the whole fundraising thing in the first place, it would be very hypocritical of him to participate in this by spending his time hosting $500-a-plate chicken dinners. He wants to get rid of that shit, not help it along.

Regardless of whether or not Sanders is a “real Democrat,” if he wants a shot at the presidency, he has to run as one. The way our system is set up just doesn’t allow for a multi-party system. Thus, any left-leaning candidate has to run as a Democrat, and any right-leaning candidate has to run as a Republican.

The first problem is the 12th Amendment. The 12th Amendment, enacted in 1804, stipulates that a candidate has to win over 50% of the electoral votes in order to become President. That number right now is 270. In the event that no candidate gets over 270 votes, congress would vote to elect the President.

When this happened in 1824 (in which four candidates were running, all as members of the Democratic-Republican Party) although Andrew Jackson won a majority of the electoral votes, he didn’t win over 50% of them. Thus, Congress voted for the president, and they elected John Adams, who had received 84 electoral votes to Jackson’s 99. As you might imagine, a lot of people were not too happy about that.

In this particular election, were the vote to be split three ways and no one to get over 50% of the vote…we’d be screwed due to the fact that the Republicans currently have a majority in Congress.

The last time a third-party candidate actually won any states was in 1968, when segregationist George Wallace ran as the nominee of the far-right American Independent Party. But, that election was held under a highly unusual set of circumstances that led to Nixon getting 308 electoral votes.

Basically, everyone hated the Democratic nominee, LBJ’s VP Hubert Humphrey, who won the nomination despite not winning in the states that held primaries because he won over delegates from the states that didn’t. Liberal, anti-war Democrats who had supported Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern in the primaries hated his guts because he supported LBJ’s policies in Vietnam, and also because of the bullshit that went down at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Southern states had previously voted Democratic, but were angered by the party’s support for the civil rights movement, and they ended up supporting Wallace.

It’s possible that if Bernie ran as an Independent, we’d have a similar situation on our hands and the election would go to whomever the GOP nominee is. It’s also possible that the vote would get split three ways and Congress would get to choose the President. Neither of those things is a good deal for the Left.

Another thing that prohibits third-party runs is the fact that, in order to receive public funding and a guaranteed place on the ballot, a party’s candidate must have received at least 5% of the vote in the previous presidential election. Without a crazy amount of money and support, that makes it nearly impossible for anyone not running as a Democrat or Republican to even have a shot at winning–especially since a lot of third party contenders, like Ralph Nader, believe that all candidates ought to rely exclusively on public funding rather than taking money from donors and PACs so they aren’t beholden to anyone.

The only way it would be possible for us to have more than two parties without overturning that part of the 12th amendment would be to change the way we run elections entirely. We would have to switch to either two-round run-off elections (in which anyone who wanted to could run, and then the two candidates who got the most votes would run against each other), or to instant run-off elections in which everyone just ranks the candidates in order of who they like best. This is usually how things are done in countries with multi-party systems.

We’ve changed the way we’ve done things before, so it’s not entirely unheard of. It used to be the case that whoever came in second in the election was made Vice-President, but in 1864 we changed it so that candidates ran with running mates. As I mentioned before, prior to the 1968 election, not all states held primaries or caucuses. Now they do.

Changing at least one of these things would lead to the American people having more of a choice in who they want to be President, and would open the field to candidates who don’t fit a particular mold.

Given the fact that more and more people on both sides of the aisle are becoming increasingly frustrated with the two-party system, I think eventually we’re really going to have to look at changing the way we do things around here.