bernie sanders

What Does Bernie Sanders’s Health Scare Mean for His Campaign?

Photo: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Intelligencer staffers Gabriel Debenedetti and Benjamin Hart discuss the possible ramifications of Bernie Sanders’s heart procedure and temporary campaign suspension.

Ben: Bernie Sanders’s campaign revealed today that the 78-year-old Vermont senator underwent a procedure for a blocked artery after experiencing tightness in his chest Tuesday evening. His wife, Jane Sanders, says he is doing “really well,” and there is no indication that more serious health problems are involved. But this is obviously news his supporters don’t want to hear. Do you have an initial sense of how the incident will affect his campaign?

Gabriel: We have no idea how this will affect the campaign, and I’m not sure the campaign does yet, either. In terms of the short-term mechanics, we know Sanders has canceled his upcoming events, and his campaign has postponed its big recent ad buy in Iowa, which was supposed to be a big moment for it. Obviously this isn’t good, but I’d caution against drawing too many conclusions here.

Purely in terms of political momentum, you clearly don’t want your candidate off the trail and off the air at an important moment. But I’m pretty sure most Democratic voters understand the circumstances.

Ben: Voters may understand that Bernie is old, but Joe Biden is the candidate whose age has been more front and center as a possible drawback. Bernie, while older than Biden, has maintained a breakneck campaign schedule and has appeared not to lose a step in the process. Won’t this put a pretty major dent in that image?

Gabriel: What I meant isn’t that voters understand his age, but that they understand there’s a completely understandable reason for his absence from the trail. I don’t want to speculate too much on the potential political fallout here because we just don’t have any idea what the prognosis is, what Sanders’s plan is, or, really, anything. I’d love more information, but clearly the people around him are being very cautious, and that’s extremely understandable. I’m happy to engage more directly with part of the question, though. Not only has Sanders had a breakneck campaign schedule in 2019, he’s had a basically insane schedule since late 2015. He’s been traveling the country more or less nonstop, and his stamina on the trail has always impressed his aides and the reporters who follow him.

Ben: Indeed, I’ve seen some testaments to that on Twitter.

Gabriel: I can attest to it personally!

Ben: Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “My friend @sensanders has always been a strong partner in the Senate. Wishing him a speedy recovery so he can get back in the fight.” Presumably rival candidates will tread extremely carefully around this news.

Gabriel: Of course. I’ve seen similar tweets or statements from Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Andrew Yang, Julián Castro, Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet, Marianne Williamson, Tim Ryan, Joe Sestak, Tulsi Gabbard, and John Delaney. And, by the way, Trump’s reelection communications director Tim Murtaugh, too. There’s no realistic world in which candidates try to make political hay out of this moment.

What Does Bernie’s Health Scare Mean for His Campaign?