Over the past year, a series of blog posts boasting about the forthcoming presidency of one Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have ricocheted across the Internet, achieving virality that would make most journalists blush.
The posts all rely on the same formula: self-assured headlines with predictive prose, usually placed on websites with a large liberal readership.
"It's Official," read one Huffington Post blog item on June 25, 2015. "Bernie Sanders Has Overtaken Hillary Clinton in the Hearts and Minds of Democrats." The piece has been shared 731,000 times on Facebook.
"Bernie Sanders Will Win the Democratic Nomination and Presidency in a Landslide," read another HuffPost blog on Jan. 13, 2016, which racked up over 200,000 shares on Facebook in under a week.
"Hillary Clinton just can’t win: Democrats need to accept that only Bernie Sanders can defeat the GOP," reads a blog post on Salon that has racked up more than 4,000 shares on Facebook since being posted Friday.
They're all the product of an upstart political writer whose work prior to the current election cycle included authoring two existential fantasy novels.
H.A. Goodman is the Bernie whisperer of the Internet.
His output is prolific. Goodman, 39, writes for multiple sites and does progressive radio and web shows. Legions of Facebook users share and “like” his work while the Reddit community has launched passionate debates over whether he’s too pro-Sanders to be featured on the site.
Goodman has never met Sanders or attended one his rallies, but is unwavering in his support.
“I think that my outlook is refreshing for many readers, especially since I’m one of the few people out there telling voters that it’s alright to think critically without the blessings of MSNBC, Fox, or CNN,” Goodman said in an email. “The entire narrative this election cycle has been Hillary’s inevitability, and I provide an outlet for people to see that it’s Bernie, not Clinton or Trump, who’s positioned to win in 2016.”
But for all the attention he's grabbed in certain corners online, Goodman’s presence is barely felt in the traditional media. He doesn’t appear on network Sunday shows or cable news election panels and he isn’t widely known among mainstream political reporters and columnists. Some journalists closely covering the Democratic race said Goodman’s name rang a bell, but were otherwise unfamiliar with his work.
Goodman is better known among progressive writers, though not always in the most flattering way.
“I refer to him as the Baghdad Bob of the Bernie camp,” said Nation contributor Joshua Holland, in reference to the comical propagandist for the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the U.S. invasion.
Goodman, Holland said, doesn’t let “objective reality sway his vision of Bernie being the commanding frontrunner in this race for many, many months."
The quirky nature of Goodman's work makes it almost impossible to assess just how big an impact he actually has. An official with Hillary Clinton's campaign said he knew his byline but not much more. "Not a big HRC fan I believe," the official wrote. The Sanders campaign, for its part, doesn’t blast out Goodman’s laudatory columns, as it might if they came from The Washington Post or The New York Times. But an aide there confirmed that they are, at least, aware of and teased by his existence.
"I can't tell you how many times I've gone to click on a link with a great headline and seen his byline," said the Sanders aide.
That Goodman even got to this point is a testament to just how democratized the media universe has become.
A Los Angeles native, Goodman declined to say what, if anything, he does beyond writing or how he derives an income. His personal digital footprint is scant, with few details listed on Facebook (he's not nearly as big on Twitter, with about 3,300 followers ). An online biography notes he studied international relations at the University of Southern California and briefly worked at the U.S. Department of State's Foreign Service Institute.
From what could be gleaned online, Goodman's interest in politics seems to be relatively recent. He wrote two novels: Logic of Demons (2010) and Breaking the Devil’s Heart (2012). In an email, he described them as a series about "Hell being an underground corporation selling a nefarious ‘formula’ to human beings, with demons as salespeople and rogue angels as cosmic vigilantes." There was, he added, a screenplay "in the works at the moment."
Goodman wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post in 2010 replying to critics of building a mosque near Ground Zero. But he really started pitching political publications in early 2014, writing first for The Hill and the Roanoke Times and Salon. He started writing for HuffPost in May 2014. Like other HuffPost blog contributors, Goodman is not paid for his work. He benefits from the large digital platform and can repurpose his writing elsewhere.
For instance, his Feb. 8 HuffPost piece, “Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Have Defeated Hillary Clinton's Political Machine,” ran the following day on Salon as “Hillary Clinton’s political machine has been busted — thanks to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.”
Salon editor-in-chief David Daley said his site has passed on some of Goodman’s pieces that felt too one-sided or over-the-top, but described others as “provocative” and said they “move the conversation.”
“I do think a lot of the debate around where Sanders voters will go if he doesn't get the nomination, and about how stridently some Sanders backers see the policy differences with Clinton, has, in some part, been driven by his pieces and the audience they achieve on social media,” Daley said.
"They certainly generate a lot of engagement and argument," he added.
Goodman chalks up his success to his ability to find angles missing in the mainstream media. He finds poll numbers that support the case that Sanders is better positioned to win and trumpets them for readers. "It's such a stark contrast from the mainstream, and the argument is backed up with so much information, that it goes viral," he explained.
From there, it's wash, rinse and repeat.
Though Goodman is now known as one of the biggest Bernie boosters on the Internet, he wasn't always gushing over the Vermonter. Rather, he took a circuitous route, pushing other candidates who either fizzled out or declined on a run before settling on Sanders.
On Dec. 23, 2014, Goodman wrote for The Hill that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) should be the next president. On Jan. 17, 2015, he wrote for The Huffington Post that he would be "voting for Rand Paul in 2016." On April 1, 2015, he made the case in The Hill for the country to consider former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley. And on May 7, 2015, he said that "America needs a Vietnam veteran like Jim Webb for president."
In an email, Goodman chalked up the Paul column as a "mistake." And he made clear that his dalliance with other Democratic candidates was more about a disgust with Clinton than a love for them. "I’m never voting for a person who accepts money from prison lobbyists, runs a racist 3 a.m. ad against our nation’s first African American president, advocates a ‘neocon’ foreign policy, or was silent on Keystone XL, so I’m never voting for Clinton," he said over email.
Goodman’s first pro-Sanders article appeared in June 2015 after he came to view the senator, in his words, as a "once in a lifetime opportunity." With that inaugural post -- the one liked 730,000 times on Facebook -- Goodman struck gold. And then he kept digging.
"Why Bernie Sanders Will Become the Democratic Nominee and Defeat Any Republican in 2016," he wrote on June 29, 2015 (158,000 shares). "'Bernie Sanders Can Become President' Has Replaced 'I Like Him, But He Can't Win,'" he wrote on July 6, 2015 (192,000 shares). "Almost Every Major Poll Shows Bernie Sanders Challenging or Defeating Clinton and Republicans. Here's Why," he wrote on Aug. 5, 2015 (272,000 shares).
His stamina for Sanders has persisted through the actual voting -- even after predictions Sanders would win Iowa and Nevada didn't pan out. And though his audience has thinned a bit, it remains fairly strong. “Bernie Sanders Is Now the ‘Inevitable’ Democratic Nominee and Presidential Winner,” Goodman wrote on Jan. 15. The piece has 56,000 shares on Facebook.
In his writing, Goodman has suggested a correlation between popularity on Facebook and support at the polls -- the virality of his posts serving as validation of his personal political wishes. He also discounts or ignores evidence that runs counter to the idea that Sanders is destined for the nomination and oversells that which confirms it (such as general election poll numbers).
There is, in short, not much nuance and quite a bit for polling experts to quibble with.
But given the national media’s dismissal of Sanders’ chances last summer, Goodman can’t be faulted for taking a victory lap.
“It’s funny how people worship at the altar of poll numbers, even though Clinton had the same poll numbers in 2008 and her leads are slipping faster today than eight years ago,” Goodman said. “I think people who enjoy my viewpoint understand that polls today serve a purpose, and that purpose isn’t only to try and reflect public sentiment.”
“Several months ago, people thought I was crazy for being so vocal about Bernie winning the presidency,” he added. “Now, since media pundits have noticed a repeat of 2008, many observers have shifted to my vantage point, but only after media changed the narrative.”
Still, Goodman said he’d “only feel vindicated” when Sanders is sworn in as president.
"I'll make certain that his political revolution continues,” he said, “especially by making sure that President Sanders fulfills the promises he's made to the black and Latino communities, in addition to helping elect progressives to Congress."