Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has asserted that the Democratic Party should move toward a more liberal platform in order to regain support following the 2016 election. Meanwhile, critics of the former Democratic presidential nominee have asserted that he is actively undermining the party.
On July 31, Sanders offered a skeptical take on the Democratic Party's progressive policy shifts. While the party's 2018 platform included a $15 minimum wage and a proposal to invest a trillion dollars into national infrastructure, the Vermont senator believed that they had not yet adopted enough of his policy proposals.
"Do not underestimate the resistance of the Democratic establishment," Sanders told The New Yorker, signaling his belief that party insiders would push back against his economic policies.
The Independent senator also offered a withering critique of the party's performance during the 2016 election, concluding "Republicans did not win the election so much as Democrats lost it."
Sanders reflected on his traveling tour across rural areas, asserting that Democrats needed to reconnect with voters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia.
"There is a lot of pain," Sanders said. "And we've got to understand that reality. And then tell these people that their problems are not caused by some Mexican making eight dollars and hour picking strawberries."
On July 24, the Senate Minority Leader, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, offered a self-critical assessment of the Democratic Party in an editorial.
"Americans believe they're getting a raw deal from both the economic and political systems in our country," Schumer wrote in The New York Times. "And they are right. The wealthiest special interests can spend an unlimited, undisclosed amount of money to influence elections and protect their special deals in Washington."
Schumer added "Democrats have too often hesitated from taking on those misguided policies directly and unflinchingly -- so much so that many Americans don't know what we stand for."
On April 19, Sanders gave a fierce critique of Democrats during an interview with promote his so-called "Unity Tour" with Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez.
"We can't bring out about the changes... unless we have the guts to point the finger at the ruling class of this country, the billionaire class and Wall Street, and say, 'Your greed is destroying this country,'" Sanders told MSNBC. "'And you know what, we're going to take you on.'"
Sanders' repeated critiques of Democrats while touring with Perez drew backlash from several party members. Markos Moulitsas, founder of the progressive-leaning Daily Kos, accused Sanders of kicking the party while it was down.
"The fact that Tom Perez has given Sanders a platform without Sanders genuinely agreeing to work toward 'unity' has made a mockery of the whole process and literally divided the party more than it was before the tour began," Moulitsas told Politico. "It has been a disaster. Yes, Perez and company are clearly afraid of Sanders and his followers, but letting Sanders make a mockery of the party doesn't exactly help it build in the long haul."
On July 9, homeless advocate Jon Svitavsky announced that he would mount a Senate challenge against Sanders in the upcoming 2018 midterms. Svitavsky accused the former Democratic candidate of dividing the party and weakening its electoral prospects during the 2016 election.
"I hold him absolutely, centrally responsible for Donald Trump being president... I believe that Bernie Sanders' entire involvement with the Democratic party has been devastating," Svitavsky told NBC News.
Political scientist Garrison Nelson of the University of Vermont expressed skepticism that Svitavsky could pose any threat to Sanders' re-election, deeming the homeless advocates' campaign "a kamikaze mission."
While Sanders has reverted back to his independent registration following the 2016 primaries, he has signaled an interest in another presidential bid in 2020.
"I am not taking it off the table," Sanders told a SiriusXM radio show July 12, according to USA Today. "I just have not made any decisions. And I think it's much too early."