More than a dozen Democrats interviewed by The Hill say the Vermont Independent has become a powerful and welcome voice for a party struggling to find its identity after a devastating defeat in 2016.
While misgivings remain about giving too much leadership to a politician who technically isn’t a Democrat, a clear warming trend is on the rise.
“It continues to drive me a bit nuts that he continues to register as an Independent, but the bottom line is that he is a good Democrat,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist who supported Hillary Clinton during the Democratic presidential primary and openly worried then about Sanders’s allegiances to the party.
During the primary, some Democrats worried that Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, was pushing the party too far to the left.
Others mocked him for being a one-issue candidate who championed what they called “unrealistic” proposals like free college tuition.
And he angered some Clinton allies who felt he stayed in the race too long and cut into her message and campaign coffers.
At least some Clinton supporters think Sanders deserves a part of the blame for Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in the general election.
And in recent weeks, former President Bill Clinton told new Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez that he didn’t want the Democratic Party “to be simply the party of Bernie,” according to a source familiar with that conversation.
An aide to Clinton refuted the characterization, saying the former president has always said the strength of Democratic Party is its inclusiveness. A DNC spokesperson said Perez says the conversation didn't happen.
Whatever bitter feelings exist, many other Democrats say Sanders is key to rebuilding the party.