April 20, 2016
It’s over. Bernie Sanders gave it a good ride, but ultimately couldn’t recover from falling short in Nevada. Way back in January, I figured he needed to sweep the first three contests to have a good chance at an upset. The tie in Iowa was close enough, but he really needed Nevada.
Hillary Clinton is not a strong candidate. But she is clutch. Each time she needed to win to avoid real trouble, she did. Many of these wins were close. Massachusetts on the first Super Tuesday. Missouri and Illinois on March 15. The only real missed opportunity was Michigan.
A Hillary win there and the conversation would have ended sooner. Bernie’s upset carried the race forward and led all of us to wonder whether the polls in New York would hold up. They did. Clinton finished slightly ahead of her final poll average.
Though Sanders absolutely needed a victory, perhaps he and/or the media could have spun a couple point shortfall. In that scenario, the closed primary would matter. He could claim ignoring independents put the stronger fall candidate at a disadvantage. Except he lost by 15 or so. An open primary would thin the gap, not close it.
We have five contests on April 26. Hillary has led in each poll in each state (no data from Delaware.) We have no reason to assume the numbers are incorrect. Each of the major polling errors so far have occurred in open primaries. These are closed. No last minute surge of independents will bail him out.
Momentum hasn’t mattered at all. Getting destroyed in the South didn’t prevent Sanders from winning in Michigan. That victory couldn’t get him another success on March 15. Those defeats didn’t stop him from sweeping a bunch of caucuses. Those caucuses did him no good in New York.
If undecided voters break to Hillary on the 26th because she won yesterday, it’s a first. However, the results from New York do show that Bernie still isn’t doing well in closed primaries with a decent to large amount of non-white voters. He still isn’t doing well with older voters.
Nothing substantially changed. Bernie couldn’t win over the skeptics. He’s more popular than Hillary with Democrats. Most favorablility surveys have him with better margins, even in some states where Clinton has won or is leading in polls.
About a third of Democrats are now anti-Hillary. These are the core Berners, as committed to him as Donald Trump’s legions are to The Donald. In the right caucus state, they can propel Bernie to a big win by themselves.
Approximately forty percent of Democrats are solidly with Hillary. In most cases not with the same enthusiasm as a Berner, but they strongly believe Clinton is the most qualified candidate and the better chief executive. Some of these voters like Bernie well enough, but they’re with her.
The rest of the Democratic electorate likes both. Bernie more in their hearts, Hillary more in their heads. They keep voting with their heads. Sanders has failed to make enough of a logical argument to win them over, when they are basically ok with his opponent.
He was in a tough spot. To have a chance he needed to get any and all Berners to the polls. Given that many of his strongest supporters are/were not registered Democrats, young, and/or irregular voters, he couldn’t skimp on firing up the troops. The rallies and constant repetition of his core message was crucial.
It’s very similar to what Trump has done on the other side. But The Donald benefits from non-proportional delegate rules in many states along with a larger field of candidates. While he may need to win a few skeptics over to reach 1237 delegates by June 7, it wasn’t necessary to put him in the lead.
It’s possible Bernie would find himself leading but short of a majority heading into the convention if Joe Biden had decided to play. The Veep would have competed with Clinton for union endorsements and African American voters. Berners would still have dominated caucus states.
Sanders now needs 59% of the remaining available earned delegates to pull even by the end of voting. After next week, this number rises to something in the low 60s. That’s mathematically impossible, not just improbable. Clinton still leads in California, a state he now needs to win by 20 points and will need to win by 25 if next week goes the way I (and most others) expect.
With Hillary increasingly looking like the presumptive nominee, the appetite for strong attacks from Bernie will go away. By the standards of presidential politics, he’s not exactly clobbering her. Iraq War vote. PAC money from Wall Street and oil & gas companies. Won’t release the speech transcripts.
It’s really pretty mild. But Hillary and her legions of establishment and media supporters (a huge percentage of cable network analysts have Clinton ties or have officially endorsed her) will attempt to shut him down quickly.
Sanders will stay on script until the 26th, just in case. He will not drop out before the contests are all done. After vowing to stay in and raising well over $100 million in small donations, he can’t bail now. He will need to carefully calibrate his pitch for the final six weeks of voting.
The next phase of the political revolution has begun. A week from now, we’ll see what the lead revolutionary has come up with. The steps Bernie takes between now and June 7, then and the convention, the convention and November, will determine how strong a force Berners are going forward.
As soon as Nevada was decided, barring big Hillary errors or a Bernie transformation, the nomination was mostly set. Sanders still has a chance to go where even Barack Obama couldn’t. Plenty of (mostly young) Americans are all riled up. Can he lead them forward? Will he pass the baton? Does this mostly fade away?
The most interesting part of the story is just beginning.