After an outright win in New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders is now the man of the hour. Turn to the person sitting next to you and ask them to pinch you–just to be sure you’re not dreaming. This has been the most extraordinary week in American politics that I can remember. Do not underestimate the number of heads exploding in America, tonight. Ka. Boom.
The big question, now is fairly straight forward: Can his fire-in-the-belly stump speech about economic justice reach voters in states like South Carolina and Georgia? Can it bring home the laurel wreath?
To think through this question, everybody should watch the video speech Sanders presented to Georgia Democrats. Watch it a few times. This speech is really what it all boils down to for the Sanders campaign.
It’s interesting to think about why Sanders speech works.
First, the speech has a strong emotional arc. As Sanders talks, he gets more and more passionate with each point. The impression he makes is not only that the fight for economic justice is urgent, but that he is deeply committed to that fight.
Second, the speech is a basic warning cast in moral terms. It is a warning about the dangers of the few taking all for themselves at the expense of the many. These few have taken over the system. And they are preventing the many from doing what is right, what is good, and what must be done right now–before it is too late.
Third, Sanders’ demeanor is authentic. Watching the Sanders speech to Georgia, one gets the impression that this is an unpolished stone–worn, but unpolished. The introductions seem rehearsed, but the speech seems to come in waves, echoing up from a deep place in his gut. There is no question Sanders truly believes what he is saying and that this is his passion.
Fourth, it is optimistic, but also angry. There is no question that Sanders comes across with a certain anger–a fury, almost. In his words, the situation calls for it. But his point is to tell Georgians that the future is possible. It is possible to make positive change, but only if the way of doing politics evolves immediately. He describes that evolution as “movement” politics, which he pitches in Wagnerian opposition to “establishment” politics.
Fifth, the success of the Sanders campaign up to this point has largely been a result of speech like this. This speech, in other words, has not be altered for Georgia. The campaign is sticking with it.
Taken as a whole, the Sanders team is doing something quote remarkable for the Democratic Party in 2016. For as long as I can remember, the Democratic Party has insisted that the way to do politics at a national level is to taylor the candidate and the campaign to fit into the many hats under a big tent. When in Georgia, change the message to something the Georgians want to hear. Sanders has not done that–yet. They are going to run a national campaign with one message, reaching out to everyone with the same clarion call for movement politics and an ingathering on the charge of economic justice.
Whether or not this is the right strategy will probably start to come into focus over the next week, as post New Hampshire poling hits the wire.
The Clinton team will take the opposite approach. They will use the old Democratic strategy to come up with attacks that they feel fit for each particular context–there will be different negative messaging for each given market. This inevitable go-for-broke assault on Sanders will be crafted to hold specific districts. It’s an approach grounded in a way of seeing campaigns as chameleons.
And so, what we will all start to see in the next week is whether or not the Sanders approach, with its single message, emotional resonance, and authenticity is powerful enough to move deep into territory that’s been hobbled together for decades by PR firms and endless polling to find just the right tipping points.
Euphoria is no doubt sweeping through the Sanders operation, right now. The next seven days will show if that euphoria will be short lived.