Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) bristled at the question of whether he was truly a Democrat on Wednesday, telling MSNBC "of course" he was as he seeks the party's presidential nomination.
MSNBC's Kasie Hunt pressed Sanders, who is in Miami for the first Democratic primary debates this week, on his affiliation and party loyalty. Sanders was the only serious challenger to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he kept his label nebulous to the chagrin of Clinton supporters; then-Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) said at the time Sanders was a Democrat "some days."
"If it's clear that you are not going to be the Democratic nominee, will you leave the race before the convention?" Hunt asked.
"I intend to be the Democratic nominee," Sanders said.
"But if you're not—you stayed in last time and some people say that you hurt Hillary Clinton's candidacy," Hunt said.
"No, some people say that if maybe that system was not rigged against me, I would have won the nomination and defeated Donald Trump," Sanders said. "That's what some people say. So I think we're going to play it out."
Sanders grew impatient when Hunt suggested he could give Trump an advantage if he stayed in the race until the Democratic convention even if he does not have a path to the nomination, wondering if she was asking that question "of every candidate."
"Right now, we are planning to win the Democratic nomination," he said, touting polls showing him beating Trump in a general election. "We're going to beat Trump. We're going to win the Democratic nomination."
"Are you a Democrat?" Hunt asked.
"Of course I'm a Democrat," he said. "This is a Democratic national convention—a Democratic primary here."
"All right. That's an easier answer to that question than I feel like we got in 2016," Hunt said, ending the interview.
Sanders is one of two registered independents in the U.S. Senate, along with Sen. Angus King (D., Maine), but they both caucus with the Democrats.
He signed a pledge in March affirming he was a "member of the Democratic Party" and would serve as a Democrat if elected president. However, he also filed in March to run as an independent in 2024 for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate.
As an independent, Sanders has succeeded in moving the Democratic Party orthodoxy closer to his left-wing views on key issues, such as universal health care and a federal minimum wage hike.