Left: Ron Paul in the 2012 Republican National Convention, photo by MCT. Right: Bernie Sanders speaks to voters at the Iowa State Fair in 2015, photo by Washington Post. Credit: MCT and Washington Post

The 2016 Bernie Sanders challenge in the Democratic Party is a mirror image of the 2012 Ron Paul challenge within the Republican Party.

Put aside political philosophical blinders because this is not a discussion about either man’s policy views but about the political process. The real question is whether the Democrat establishment will squander opportunity the way the Republican establishment did four years ago.

Political humorist Mort Sahl once observed that the only way to understand the political spectrum is to discard the notion that it is a straight line extending left to right. Visualize it as a circle, he said, and there is a “twilight zone” where left meets right. The two converge on the circle at the polar opposite from where the two major political parties overlap, he said.

Ralph Nader, several time Green Party presidential candidate, echoed this theory in a July 2014 speech before the Commonwealth Club of California where he discussed the several instances where progressives and libertarians joined forces in campaigns for civil liberties and against corporate cronyism.

In June of this year, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party were co-plaintiffs in a class action suit against the Federal Election Commission seeking open access to presidential debates for all third party candidates.

This is not to say that suddenly hordes of Ron Paul supporters have shifted from the libertarian fold to Sander’s progressive movement. However, the two campaigns have similarities.

The old guard Democratic and Republican insiders have failed to grasp the alienation most Americans feel toward the two major corporate political parties. They cling to power and distrust outside reformers. Voters have responded throughout the nation by changing registration to unaffiliated independent.

However, the grip the two parties have on the process precludes outside views from an equal playing field (hence the joint Libertarian-Green suit against the FEC).

Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders are both political outliers. Paul ran for president as the Libertarian Party candidate but returned to the Republican Party because he believed the only way to get a platform to voice his philosophy was to run for the GOP nomination.

Sanders once called himself a socialist (although he now prefers to label himself a progressive) who was elected to the Senate as an independent. Like Paul, he has registered Democrat because he believes the only way to get a national platform to voice his views is to run for the Democratic nomination.

Although their views differ, both touch a nerve with the same constituency of disaffected young people who distrust politicians. A Pew poll found that almost 50 percent of millennials register independent.

They are highly educated and well informed on the issues of the day as evidenced by the trending news on social media, which they predominate. Linda Killian of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars wrote that the Facebook Generation blames both major political parties for the ills of the country, which is why they register independent.

We have had movements in the past, which galvanized young people and brought them into politics. Barry Goldwater’s 1964 challenge to the East Coast aristocrats’ control of the Republican Party launched the conservative movement and could not have been achieved without enthusiastic support of thousands of collegians campaigning for him.

Four years later, Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war challenge to LBJ and the military-industrial complex changed the Democratic Party by bringing in idealistic young people.

In 2012, Ron Paul excited young people who didn’t fully trust the Republican Party and who did not identify with a conservative movement that differed from them on issues like U.S. intervention into overseas wars, social issues and personal privacy. They were the cadre who went to caucuses, became state convention delegates and, in Maine, got a Paul delegation elected to the Republican National Convention.

Had the Republican establishment been smart, it would have agreed to disagree with them on presidential politics but welcomed them into the fold as young acolytes who could bring a fresh face to the party. Once the dust settled and Mitt Romney was crowned the nominee, they could have been fresh legs in the ground troops at the local campaign level.

Instead, the party insiders made them feel unwelcomed and went on a war footing against them. Then-Maine GOP Chair Charlie Webster went so far as to label them “wing-nuts trying to take over our party” in a Bangor radio interview.

In Tampa, GOP National Chair Reince Priebus’ machine used every parliamentary trick to deny them opportunities to speak or participate.

This led to a post-election mass defection from the Republican Party.

Bernie Sanders is showing the same appeal to disaffected young people on the left as Paul did on the right. He is touching them by taking unconventional stands on issues and speaking against what he perceived as the failures of the two party oligarchies.

The question is whether Hillary Clinton’s organization will be as clueless as Romney’s was four years ago. The Democratic Party regulars can seize the opportunity to harness the enthusiasm of these Sanders acolytes and welcome them into the fold or they face the schism plaguing the GOP due to its arrogant hubris.

Vic Berardelli is a retired political consultant and author of “The Politics Guy Campaign Tips – How to Win a Local Election.” Now registered as an unenrolled independent, he is a former Republican State Committeeman and former member of the Republican Liberty Caucus National Board.

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