Bernie Sanders is the future of the Democratic Party

Story highlights

  • Dean Obeidallah: Sanders' many young supporters aren't Democrats, but they are drawn to the clarity of his positions
  • The schism between DNC chairman Wassermann Schultz and the Sanders camp seems to be widening, he says

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM's weekly program "The Dean Obeidallah Show," a columnist for The Daily Beast and editor of the politics blog The Dean's Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)Attention Democratic leaders, and especially DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The key to the Democratic Party winning is Bernie Sanders. And I don't mean just preventing the nightmare of Donald J. Trump serving as our nation's commander in chief. Sanders is also the key to Democrats retaking the U.S. Congress as well as governorships and state legislatures.

Why? Simple. Sanders has attracted a legion of voters under 30, a category that now represents 17% of the total electorate, up from 14% in 2012. Sanders won 71% of these younger voters in the Democratic contests through early May, which is even higher than the 59% Barack Obama won in 2008.
    And polls show Sanders has consistently won first-time voters. For example in the New Hampshire primary, Sanders was supported by 78% of first-time voters.
    Sanders is getting young people to become part of the election process for the first time in their lives. I have heard this firsthand when I have given talks at colleges over the past few months. But what I also learned was that these young people are not Democrats. Rather they are Sanders' supporters drawn to his populist, inclusive message.
    And these people are increasingly getting angry with Democratic leaders, which is a huge problem for the future of the party. We saw a sign of that Tuesday night at Sanders' packed rally in California. The biggest boos of the night were reserved for Trump. But the second loudest boos came when Sanders mentioned he had a message for the "leadership of the Democratic Party."
    Sanders then laid out a very clear choice for these Democratic Party honchos, telling them they're now faced with a "very profound and important decision." They could "do the right thing and open its doors to welcome to the party people prepared to fight for real economic and social change."
    Or as Sanders noted, the Democratic leaders could choose the "sad and tragic option" of defending "the status quo and remain dependent on big money campaign contributions." If they choose that path, Sanders warned that the Democratic Party would see "limited participation and limited energy."
    Now that doesn't mean every Sanders supporter will sit out the November election if Sanders' message isn't embraced. Some Sanders supporters -- such as myself -- will still proudly and passionately support Hillary Clinton if she's the nominee. But unlike Sanders' younger supporters, I've been a Democrat for years.
    Alarmingly it seems that the schism between Wasserman Schultz and the Sanders' camp is escalating. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Wassermann Schultz was on CNN scolding Sanders over what she viewed as his lackluster response to some of his supporters becoming violent at the Nevada Democratic convention over the weekend. (Sanders did condemn the violence in a statement.)
    Then on Wednesday, Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver let it all out, declaring on TV what many Sanders' supporters have long felt about Wasserman Schultz: "It's been pretty clear almost from the get-go that she has been working against Bernie Sanders." Weaver blamed the DNC chair for the initial scheduling of Democratic debates in times with low TV viewership as well as revoking their campaign's access to the party's voter database.
    Some Democratic leaders I have spoken with -- including a person on the Clinton staff -- say this is nothing to worry about and the party will unite if Clinton is the nominee. They then typically cite the fact that 40% of Clinton supporters in 2008 said they wouldn't vote for Obama but most ended up doing just that as the Democratic Party united.
    The problem, though, is that the 2008 Clinton supporters are unlike the younger Sanders' supporters. Clinton's supporters were mostly older and were likely longtime Democrats, which is not true of the younger Sanders supporters.
    Trump supporters will hate to hear this, but it's very unlikely that these young Sanders' supporters will vote for the billionaire. After all, Trump is one of the marquee players in the rigged economic system that Sanders has railed against and Trump has made truly despicable comments about women, Latinos and Muslims. The more likely scenario is they simply stay home, which could spell doom for Clinton's candidacy.
    So what do the Clinton campaign and Democratic leaders need to do to enlist the young Sanders supporters if he loses the nomination? For starters, treat them fairly and respectfully. And then embrace as much of Sanders' message as possible. (In reality, Sanders and Clinton are very close on many policy issues.)
    The good news for the Democratic Party is that one of the biggest cheers of the night at Sanders' campaign rally Tuesday was when he declared that Democratic leaders need to, "Open the doors and let the people in!" The ball is now in Wasserman Schultz's court: What's it going to be?