By Nick Allen* – The Telegraph
Bernie Sanders’ singular refusal to compromise the principles of his left-wing crusade have helped earn him the nickname “America’s Jeremy Corbyn”.
In policy terms there certainly are similarities, although Mr Sanders sits somewhat to the right of Mr Corbyn. He identifies himself as a “social democrat”. Opponents often truncate that to “socialist”, and cast him as unelectable. But in truth, Mr Sanders has no desire to take the means of production into state ownership. Industries like rail, water and power, would remain in private hands. Nor does Mr Sanders want to unilaterally abolish nuclear weapons.
However, the main pillars of his platform – an NHS-style healthcare system and free college tuition – would resonate strongly with Mr Corbyn’s audience. So would his desire to raise taxes on the rich and introduce a significant rise in the minimum wage, bringing it to $15 an hour. Overall, Mr Sanders and Mr Corbyn occupy similar positions on the left of the political spectrum in their respective countries.
Mr Sanders, who was easily re-elected senator in Vermont in November’s midterm elections, has also taken aim repeatedly at the Pentagon and would cut US defence spending. One area where he agrees with Donald Trump is that European countries should bear more of the cost of Nato.
“He does not believe the US should spend so much of its resources defending the rest of the world,” a senior Sanders strategist in the 2016 presidential campaign told the Telegraph.
If he were to win in 2020 Mr Sanders would be 79, the oldest president ever elected (Donald Trump was 70). He would almost undoubtedly become the last president to have been born during the Second World War.
It has been a long journey.
Growing up in the long shadow of that war left its mark on Mr Sanders. His father was a Polish paint salesman and many of his family died in the Holocaust. With little money to go around, his mother and father frequently fought, and both died while he was a young adult.
He went to the University of Chicago where he read Karl Marx and joined the civil rights movement. At the age of 20 he led Chicago’s first anti-segregation sit-in. A few years later when Martin Luther King Jr gave his “I have a dream” speech in Washington, the future presidential candidate was there.
Soon after that he was arrested at another anti- segregation protest, leading to his conviction for resisting arrest and a fine of $25. It was the start of a progressive record on the left of the Democratic Party that marks him out from the younger stars of his party.
After spending most of the 1960s enmeshed in civil rights and the anti-Vietnam war movement, and working as a union organiser, Mr Sanders moved to Vermont searching for a rural life, at one point becoming a carpenter.
But politics never went away, and he continued to stand in a series of elections for obscure left-wing parties, running repeatedly for Governor of Vermont, and the US Senate, and failing badly. In the 1974 US Senate race he got just four per cent of the vote.
Six years later Mr Sanders, then aged 39, finally won his first election – following a recount. By just 10 votes he became Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, a city of 35,000 people just south of the Canadian border.
He had run against a sitting Democrat, railing against a millionaire developer’s plans to turn the city’s waterfront into luxury flats and hotels, instead campaigning for parks and bike paths, His slogan was “Burlington is not for sale”.
The small town mayor went on to be re-elected four times. In 1990 Mr Sanders finally sailed into the US Congress as Vermont elected America’s first independent congressman for 40 years.
In Congress Mr Sanders, who had no foreign policy experience, would become a vocal opponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He then stood for the Senate in 2005 and won in a landslide. As a US senator he became, and remains, an anomaly, calling himself an Independent. However, he would usually vote alongside the Democrats.
Five years later he hit the political turbocharger when he delivered an eight hour Senate speech railing against extending tax cuts from the Bush era. It made him a hero to those on the left of the Democratic Party, and sparked fevered speculation about a primary challenge to Barack Obama in 2012.
In the end he waited, and on May 22, 2015, in Burlington, announced his first White House run, as a Democrat.
What followed amazed everyone, especially Hillary Clinton. The expected coronation of Mrs Clinton turned into a protracted and bitter battle, an internecine struggle for the soul of the party.
At “Feel the Bern” rallies across America the septuagenarian railed until he was red in the face at big banks and billionaires, especially Donald Trump, lighting up crowds of mostly young voters. Mr Sanders often appeared to be by far the oldest person at his rallies.
He lost the nomination in controversial circumstances but much of his movement remains. It is still common to see Sanders bumper stickers and yard signs.
Many assumed 2016 was his one and only chance, but it is now clear Mr Sanders never saw it that way. It is little remarked on but in his high school years he was a star long distance runner, and basketball player. He is 6ft tall and weighs 179 pound, does not smoke and hardly drinks. He has never had any major health issue.
On the first anniversary of Mr Trump’s inauguration, Jan 20, 2018, Mr Sanders gathered some of his top operatives in Washington to discuss the possibility of 2020. They chewed the fat over $60 steaks. It seems probable a decision to run was made there.
One key lesson Mr Sanders learned from 2016 was that not enough groundwork had been done in the southern states, where Mrs Clinton won easily. His other weakness was foreign policy and in recent months he has been speaking to experts to widen his knowledge.
He has also been assiduously visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two states to vote in the 2020 primaries. Millions of viewers have been watching events about healthcare that he streams live on Facebook. There are podcasts too.
On the downside his wife, Jane Sanders, is embroiled in a federal investigation into a land deal she made while president of Burlington College. Another potential Achilles heel is guns. In Congress Mr Sanders repeatedly cast votes against bills that would expand background checks and establish waiting periods for purchases.
Should he win the Democratic nomination and take on Mr Trump there would undoubtedly be fireworks. As for what nickname Mr Trump would give him, we already know. The president has christened him “Crazy Bernie”.
*Nick Allen is a US news correspondent for the Daily Telegraph based in Los Angeles.