Saturday, March 19, 2016

Bernie's Last Gasp

With a five-for-five night on Super Tuesday II, Hillary Clinton attained a practically insurmountable delegate lead against Bernie Sanders. While the Clinton team is itching to start aiming its fire on Donald Trump, the erstwhile Vermont Senator is showing no sign of going quietly into the gentle night. 

I am here to say it is time for Sanders to quit the race. It is not just the nearly 2:1 delegate lead Clinton has amassed, the 2.5 million more votes she has received than him, or the near mathematical impossibility of him catching her, it is also for the good of the party that all Democrats, like minded Independents and concerned Republicans begin the task of forming the coalition that will keep the White House in Democratic hands for another four years. 

But, says the Sanders team, what about 2008? Hillary contested every single primary before bowing out. True, so far as it goes, but this is not 2008 for several reasons:

  • Obama and Clinton were neck-and-neck in the popular vote throughout and practically so in the delegate race. Clinton is millions of votes ahead of Sanders and whether you want to use “pledged” delegates as the benchmark or “pledged delegates plus super delegates,” her lead is far more than Obama’s was against her at any point along the way;
  • The Democrats had a tail wind in 2008 because George W. Bush was incredibly unpopular. Even before the Wall Street collapse in September, Bush’s favorability had taken massive hits because of Hurricane Katrina, the endless fighting in Iraq, and the slowing economy. Republicans were also seeking to hold the White House for a third consecutive term, something not often done.
  • Speaking of that third term, Obama is still incredibly popular with the Democratic Party and has a roughly 50% approval rating overall. While this accrues to the nominee to succeed him, the best way to lock in that support is to hew to policies that build on those already achieved, not calling for a political revolution that people are not clamoring for.

Sanders has achieved an enormous amount and the passion of his supporters cannot be questioned; however, his continued presence saps precious resources that will be needed in the fight against Trump for no particularly good reason. The idea that he will be competitive in places like New York (where Clinton served as Senator for eight years, won two landslide victories and the 2008 primary against Obama) or California (which she also won in 2008) or Pennsylvania (ditto, along with its long history of support for President Clinton) is simply not credible.

The Democrats have a unique opportunity not just to buck the no-party-gets-a-third-term trend, but to win back the Senate and eat into the Republican majority in the House. With Hillary atop the ticket competing against Trump, predictions for House races are already shifting toward “toss up” or “lean Democrat” that had previously been safe and the Senate map, which was already favorable for Democrats, will become more so. A President Clinton coming into office in 2017 with a Senate majority and a Republican House with a 10-12 seat majority may actually be able to get things done.

Conversely, Sanders backers must acknowledge the reality that the “revolution” he claims to be leading has simply not come to pass. He lags with many of the constituencies that make up the Democratic coalition and has lost badly in places like Florida, Ohio, and Virginia that will be critical in November. Down ballot Democrats may run from his support and otherwise vulnerable Republicans may survive. While he should be lauded for his narrow win in Michigan, other state victories in places like Maine and Nebraska were with vote totals that were far less than what Clinton received in a single city like Chicago or Miami. 

Moreover, a Sanders nomination would embolden Republicans to dump Trump and rally the party to a consensus nominee like Paul Ryan because Sanders would be an incredibly weak general election nominee. Polls may show him to be competitive right now, but hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent turning him into the second coming of Karl Marx. Say what you will about Hillary, she is a known commodity and someone who has survived decades of Republican barbs.

Lastly, while it is entirely possible that mainstream Republicans like Colin Powell (who endorsed Obama twice), Bob Dole, or George H.W. Bush might endorse Hillary over Trump, giving tacit permission to Republicans to vote their conscience for fear of turning over the country to him, it is impossible to imagine them doing the same for an avowed democratic socialist. Her ability to attract Republicans who view her as an acceptable alternative to Trump is simply not true of Sanders.

Were Sanders an actual member of the Democratic party and had he spent the last 25 or 30 years of his career doing the rubber chicken circuit helping to elect down ballot Democrats and sitting in state meetings building friendships and alliances with key leaders at the local level, he would understand the concept of “for the good of the party.” Hillary understands this because she has been campaigning for Democrats since George McGovern in 1972. In 2008, she not only put Obama’s name in nomination at the Democratic National Convention, she campaigned vigorously for him, went on to serve as his Secretary of State, and her husband gave a re-nominating speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention so comprehensive in its defense of Obama’s record that Obama himself said he was going to appoint Bill Clinton Secretary of Explaining Stuff. 

I hold out far less hope that Sanders will give a full throated endorsement of Clinton or campaign for her or encourage his supporters to donate to her campaign. He has been a one-man band for decades and holds no allegiance to the Democratic Party; if he did, he would know it is time to quit.

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 

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