THE BLOG
05/20/2016 05:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This Is the Ugly Side of the Bernie Sanders Phenomenon

Last night Bernie Sanders enjoyed a big win in Oregon and just barely lost to Hillary Clinton in Kentucky. So, not a bad primary night for the senator.

But that victory is being overshadowed by the continued backlash over the actions of some Sanders supporters over the weekend in Nevada, when the state Democrats held their convention to allocate delegates a few weeks after their caucus (which was won by Hillary Clinton). In their anger over Sanders failing to gain more delegates and a sense of unfairness about how the convention was run, some of his supporters have threatened violence against party officials and even violated the privacy of state party Chairwoman Roberta Lange by posting her phone number and address online. Lange says some supporters went as far as sending her death threats.

Party officials started calling on Sanders to apologize.

Which he won't do.

He issued a statement that many have described as #sorrynotsorry--and as not going far enough in disavowing his supporters' intense reactions.

So, yeah: the tone of the Democratic nomination race has gotten significantly uglier.

Lately more people have started drawing comparisons between Bernie Sanders supporters and Donald Trump supporters, and even between Sanders and Trump.

People have been applying the demagogue label to Trump for months, but now we're seeing more musings about whether it should be applied to Sanders as well.

So ... is Sanders a demagogue?

This is the dictionary definition of demagogue:

A person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.

Does that sound like Sanders to you?

Maybe, maybe not.

It depends entirely on who you speak to, and their opinions on his policies and style.

If you believe Sanders fully intends to follow through on his campaign promises and that his policy recommendations are feasible, you probably don't think demagogue applies to him.

But if you don't think that he can or will actually follow through on his populist views and calls for political revolution, and that he's just saying what disadvantaged and frustrated people want to hear, then you may think the demagogue label seems fitting.

Why are some people calling Sanders a demagogue?

Partly because of his rhetoric, but also because of the way he's steering his campaign, vowing to fight to the end and to force a contested convention.

But actually, a lot of it has to do with the passion of many of his supporters--which in some cases ventures into hero worship territory.

He's a superhero:

Or Obi-Wan Kenobi:

Even Jesus:

Some of that super passionate support for Sanders, combined with dislike of the political system, takes the form of calling the election a conspiracy to stop Sanders from winning the nomination. With a ton of suspicion thrown on Hillary Clinton and the establishment.

The fervent, die-hard dedication of some supporters (see: #BernieOrBust), combined with his apparent encouragement of this, is what's inspiring these labels of Sanders as a demagogue.

What's Bernie's role in all this?

There have been some calls for Bernie to reign in his supporters before things get even more out of hand. (Along with calls for him to drop out.)

The fact is that Clinton has earned 94% of the delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Based on the way delegates are awarded, Sanders would need a landslide victory in every remaining primary and a miracle in order to clinch the nomination. But he hasn't acknowledged that to his supporters yet, and it doesn't seem likely that he will.

But he keeps encouraging people to join his fight against Hillary Clinton and the establishment and only kinda sorta condemning things like the outrage in Nevada.

The supporters who are tweeting things like the #BernTheWitch hashtag in reference to Hillary Clinton are part of a vocal minority of Sanders supporters. The problem is that this vocal minority is getting attention on social media and in news coverage, so it could hurt his image and legacy unless Sanders himself does something about it.

OK, so some of his supporters are passionate. So what?

Even though it'd be silly to paint all Bernie supporters with the same brush--not everyone is saying Sanders was ordained by Mother Earth--as always, it's the ones who are most vocal who grab the most attention.

After Nevada, party leaders are worried that we may see more Democratic primaries unravel. The last thing they want is for violence to break out like it has at so many Trump rallies. On top of that, the party needs to start looking ahead to be able to unite against their Republican opponent. They believe Sanders is firing up his supporters knowing good and well that it will split the party.

While Republicans argue over whether or not they'll support Trump, Democrats want to be able to present themselves as calm and unified in comparison.

They're not.

The Dems are so divided that it's hard to imagine the Sanders and Clinton camps to come together. That does not bode well for a blue victory in November.

Those top Democrats might be right to worry about the lengths to which Sanders supporters will go to support their candidate. There are already organized plans to protest the Democratic convention in July, which hints that even if Clinton becomes the official nominee, Sanders supporters won't quit fighting.

This article was written by Lauren Wethers and originally appeared on Kicker. Kicker explains the most important, compelling things going on in the world and empowers you to get in the know, make up your own mind, and take action. For more, check out the Kicker site, like their Facebook page, or subscribe to their email newsletter.