When he steps on the stage for the first Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday in Las Vegas, Bernie Sanders will be a changed candidate from when he started his insurgent run back in April. The Vermont senator has shifted his positions and tone over the last several months, moving to the left on gun control, race and other issues, aligning more closely with the Democratic base and making himself more palatable to the party as its potential presidential nominee.
The conventional wisdom of the Democratic race holds that Sanders is the principled liberal challenging Hillary Clinton, who has flip-flopped on a number of issues in her political career. At the start of the campaign, Sanders was to the left of Clinton on economic issues, but the former secretary of state had been more vocal on other progressive concerns, such as tensions between minorities and the police.
Clinton has moved towards Sanders-like stances on economic issues, such as when she announced her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership last week. But Sanders has moved too. The Vermont senator, who voted against the 1993 Brady Bill that mandated background checks for most gun purchases and in 2005 supported a provision that shielded gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits for crimes committed with the guns they supplied, is now emphasizing his support for expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons and other gun control provisions.
Sanders, who has not been a leader on civil rights issues in Congress and at times suggested the root of racial problems was largely economics, has now wholeheartedly embraced the language and policy positions of the "Black Lives Matter" movement. He recently introduced a bill in Congress that would bar the federal government from putting convicts in privately-operated prisons, as civil rights advocates argue profit-making from incarceration creates incentives to jail more Americans.