On the night of Feb. 1, with the Iowa caucus results showing him in dead heat with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders delivered a speech to a room full of cheering supporters. Because the results were so close, this was neither a victory speech nor a concession speech. However, Sanders seemed to be quite optimistic about the results of the caucus and what it revealed about the future. “I think the people of Iowa have sent a very profound message to the political establishment,” he said. “What has begun in Iowa tonight is a political revolution.”
At this point, it seems to be incredibly unlikely that Sanders will win the Democratic nomination, despite the passionate support his candidacy has received. Though Sanders and Clinton received the same number of delegates through the Iowa Caucus, Clinton still has the overwhelming advantage in super-delegates, party elites who are free to vote for whichever candidate they wish. NPR estimated a 45 to 1 super-delegate advantage for Clinton. In order for Sanders to win, he would have to win all remaining state primaries by a large margin, with the Democratic establishment thoroughly backing his opponent.
However, this does not mean that Sanders’s political revolution will not come to pass. About fifty years ago, there was another Senator who ran for president, one who was often decried as a radical by members of his own party and attracted passionate support from some dedicated followers. His name was Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee for president who lost in a landslide to the incumbent Democrat, Lyndon B. Johnson. He campaigned as a proud conservative challenging the liberal consensus of the times, while most other Republican presidential candidates such as Nelson Rockefeller ran to his left. His campaign received an unprecedented amount of volunteers and small contributions from supporters, even as top Republicans such as Michigan Governor George Romney refused to campaign for him due to his extreme views.
Goldwater may have lost the election, but the conservative cause he championed eventually triumphed. A charismatic former actor who campaigned for Goldwater went on to become governor of California while running on similar conservative ideas. In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and became President of the United States. According to Washington Post columnist George Will, Goldwater did win, “It just took sixteen years to count the votes.” According to Rick Perlstein, who chronicled Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in his 1964 book Before the Storm, eventually even Democrats like Bill Clinton had to adopt conservative ideas like deregulation and smaller government to be taken seriously. Lyndon B. Johnson may have won the election, but the Goldwater acolytes won the battle for America.
Sanders will probably not be the Democratic standard-bearer this November. However, the movement for which he has become the icon will not die with his candidacy. Like Goldwater, Sanders may not ever become president, but major change does not happen in a single election cycle. Sanders has become the voice to the concerns of a passionate group of people who will not simply disappear following this November’s election. Like Goldwater, Sanders has revealed dissatisfaction with the current political consensus. His candidacy may not be successful, but the movement he has mobilized will march on.