At the same time, he has staffed his Senate office and his campaign with former leadership aides, three of whom worked for Harry Reid of Nevada, the former Democratic leader, who retired in 2017. He also hired the Democratic operative Tyson Brody, who compiled opposition research on him for Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
Mr. Sanders’s allies say joining leadership was a smart move, insisting it does not compromise his status as an outsider. Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California and a co-chairman of Mr. Sanders’s 2020 campaign, calls Mr. Sanders “the perfect insider-outsider” who, unlike Mr. Trump, at least knows how Washington works.
“It’s sort of the best of both worlds,” Mr. Khanna said. “The only people who know that he has that position are 99 other senators and 430-something members of Congress. No one out in the rest of the country knows about it.”
The last time he embarked on a run for the White House, in April 2015, Mr. Sanders, was viewed by his colleagues as a kind of oddball figure — a self-identified democratic socialist on a Don Quixote, tilting-at-windmills quest. He announced his candidacy with a position paper on issues like income inequality and climate change, on a patch of grass, known as the Swamp, outside the Capitol — an unusual locale given that senators are not supposed to mix official business with politics.
“I think people should be a little bit careful underestimating me,” he said then.
Now the senator has a different problem: With his brand of democratic socialism taking root on the Democratic left, so many Democrats sound so much like Bernie Sanders that some are asking why America needs Bernie Sanders. His Medicare for All bill is a case in point. Its co-sponsors include at least four Senate Democrats who are running against him: Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California.
Medicare for All would provide health insurance to all Americans under a single plan run by the government and financed by taxpayers; private insurers could remain in business but could only provide benefits, such as elective surgery, not covered by the government.