While most attention has focused on the Republican side of the 2016 presidential race, the Bernie Sanders phenomenon is at least as remarkable as anything that has happened in the GOP contest. Sanders, a 73-year-old socialist, is generating far more enthusiasm than any other Democratic candidate. Byron York notes that on Saturday, Sanders drew an astonishing 24,000 people to a rally at Boston’s Convention and Exhibition Center. This photo of the crowd was posted on Twitter by someone in attendance and, as Byron says, “got the attention of a lot of political reporters.”
It is the usual Sanders crowd, a sea of white people. But a crowd of 24,000 is impressive any way you look at it, and, as Byron points out, this is just the third-largest crowd that Sanders has drawn so far–not to mention that earlier in the day, he spoke to 6,000 in the modest-sized city of Springfield.
Is America really ready to elect an elderly socialist president? I doubt it, although I suppose Massachusetts is. To some degree, as many have said, the Sanders phenomenon resembles the Trump phenomenon as a manifestation of the public’s deep disgust with politics as usual.
But I think the two cases are different in this respect: Trump has surged despite the fact that that there are a number of strong candidates in the Republican field. In considerable part, I think Sanders’s popularity reflects the vacuum of leadership in the Democratic Party. Democrats who realize that Hillary is an awful candidate, as well as being the ultimate political insider, don’t have many options. In a group that includes no really strong candidates, why not Bernie?