- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2017

A former top outreach staffer for Sen. Bernard Sanders‘ presidential campaign says that behind the scenes the operation was at times a mess as the candidate surrounded himself with his own group of insiders and failed to harness the progressive energy out in the country.

Cesar Vargas, who was Mr. Sanders‘ Latino outreach director, a lawyer and an illegal immigrant here under color of President Barack Obama’s 2012 deportation amnesty policy, said the Vermont independent must correct those mistakes if he’s thinking about making another run in 2020.

“At times I think the senator did an incredible job, but right off the bat I’d say Sen. Sanders‘ inner circle was very establishment and, at times, they were very disconnected from what was happening on the ground,” Mr. Vargas told The Washington Times. “As we head into 2020, we need to step back and reflect so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

Mr. Vargas first aired his concerns in an op-ed that appeared in The Hill newspaper in which he said that Mr. Sanders‘ coterie of advisers — a group that included Jeff Weaver and Tad Devine — were good guys but were all middle-aged white men who were too tied to politics as usual in Washington and struggled to build out a campaign operation that matched the explosion of grass-roots enthusiasm.

“For all the fuss about your campaign fighting the establishment, your campaign was actually pretty establishment,” Mr. Vargas wrote. “If we truly want to realize a political revolution, then trust the exceptional grassroots talent that working class, black, brown, women, millennial, queer, Muslim, Asian and other leaders can bring to your campaign. Bring these leaders into your inner circle for advice and guidance.”

Mr. Vargas also said Mr. Sanders‘ wife Jane proved to be a powerful surrogate and should have played a larger public role.

The election of President Trump has helped to sustain the grass-roots energy that helped power Mr. Sanders to a second-place finish in the 2016 Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats on Capitol Hill, now could be on a collision course with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential bid and is another darling of the progressive movement.

Others thought to be considering bids for the Democratic nomination include: Sens. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California, as well as former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, whose 2016 campaign quickly sputtered out.

Mr. Vargas told The Times that he still considers Mr. Sanders the party’s “North Star.”

“I think Senator Sanders is still the strongest candidate going into 2020,” he said.

Fed up with the Democratic Party, some of the Sanders acolytes are trying to convince him to sever ties with the Democrats and launch a People’s Party molded in his progressive vision.

Mr. Vargas says that he doesn’t care whether Mr. Sanders runs as a Democrat or breaks away from the party, as long as he continues to drive the discussion on, among other things, the need for universal health care, tuition-free public universities and an overhaul of the immigration system that includes enhanced protections for illegal immigrants as well as a path to citizenship.

For his part, Mr. Sanders has deflected questions about his future, while calling on the media to pay more attention to the issues facing the nation and pushing to overhaul the Democratic Party from the inside out.

Speaking Thursday with comedian Larry Wilmore on “The Bernie Sanders Show” on Facebook, Mr. Sanders said the Democratic Party lost its soul by becoming too tied to corporate America and too willing to accept the deregulation of Wall Street and free trade agreements that hurt the working class.

Mr. Sanders said the party platform adopted last year at the Democratic National Convention provides the party with a progressive road map forward and gives him hope.

But he also said there is still “an element of the Democrat establishment who may give lip service to those ideas, but that is not what is really in their heart of hearts.”

Mr. Sanders likened his political philosophy to that of Woody Guthrie’s song “Which Side Are You On.”

“In politics you have to make a decision: Are you going to stand with working people who are struggling, or are you going to stand with the big money interests?” he said. “You can’t be in both camps.”

 

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