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Bernie Sanders is still borrowing the Democratic Party

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) greets people after speaking during a rally in Miami with the head of the Democratic Party. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

One of the weirdest bits and most consistent reader feedback I get is from people upset that I list Bernie Sanders as the favorite for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It’s not even because of his age or that they’re skeptical of his chances, mind you. It’s that he’s not technically a Democrat. The fact that this non-Democrat came pretty darn close to winning that party’s nomination in 2016 apparently doesn’t matter; people don’t think he belongs.

But occasionally Sanders reinforces just how overtly he’s borrowing the Democratic Party.

The still-technically independent senator announced Monday that he’ll seek reelection in 2018. That much isn’t surprising, but the way in which he’s doing it should raise some eyebrows:

According to campaign spokesperson Arianna Jones, Sanders plans to seek the Democratic nomination in Vermont’s August primary. If he wins, she said, he would “respectfully” decline the nomination and run as an independent in the general election. Sanders would, however, accept the endorsement of the Vermont Democratic Party.

That's right: Sanders is going to run in the Democratic primary for no reason except to preclude anybody else from winning it — despite having no intention of running as a Democrat in the general election. Sanders basically wants to ensure he will face no Democratic opponent in November. A cynic might say the guy who complained about the rigging of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary is kinda, sorta rigging the 2018 Vermont Senate race for himself.

To be clear, Sanders has done this before. He ran unopposed in the 2012 Democratic primary, and in 2006, he took 94.3 percent of the vote against three unknown opponents. Each time, he passed on actually running as a Democrat.

It’s also pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, given there’s very little chance he’d lose even if he did have to face a Democrat in the general election. (Sanders hasn’t taken less than 63 percent of the vote since 1996.)

But this does take on some new significance now that Sanders has bought into the Democratic Party. He has largely disavowed his past commentary on how the Democratic Party was no better than the Republican Party and has, for all intents and purposes, defined himself as a Democrat. He even embarked on a tour with the head of the Democratic National Committee last year to help the party unite and expand its appeal.

Yet Hillary Clinton and others continue to criticize Sanders for his lack of a party affiliation with the Democrats, and Clinton has suggested he doesn’t have the party's true interests at heart. She mentioned that repeatedly in her book last year.

This is also the kind of gamesmanship that some Democrats might balk at — including a lot of people who were pretty upset about how the 2016 Democratic primary went down. Sanders will still be running for and winning those Democratic primary votes fair and square, mind you, but he’ll be doing so for the purposes of manipulating the general election matchup.

It all suggests a guy who is still very much using the Democratic Party when it’s convenient for him — which is perhaps what those readers are really upset about.