May 20, 2016
It’s getting loud out there. More and more Democrats are calling for Bernie to back down. And now. Several Liberal/Progressive commentators and pundits are saying he’s out of line. When Hillary was ahead of Trump in the polls, it was fine to let the Sandersistas tilt at their windmills.
Enjoy, Young Democrats of Tomorrow, for in the fall your choice is the Hill or The Donald. But then the polls started moving. Sure, there’s supposedly a semi-permanent Democratic advantage in the Electoral College. Sure, demographics are moving in their direction.
Sure, Trump has managed to offend a majority of the country and has terrible favorability numbers. Sure, the GOP isn’t united just yet, even if they are making some progress. But national polls are consistently showing a close race. The Quinnipiac polls from last week in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania put a good scare into many. All of a sudden, this isn’t cute anymore.
So they want him gone. Now. Not to drop out of the race, but to start sounding nicer, making sure to avoid giving Trump ammunition. They want his supporters to stop raising a stink at state conventions. They most definitely don’t want Sanders creating floor fights at the convention.
Their comparison is 2008. Hillary fought the good fight, but when the primaries were over and Obama had enough super delegate commitments to lock up the nomination, she exited and quickly endorsed him. Though her campaign rhetoric was sharper than Bernie’s is now, the pivot allowed Clinton and Obama to heal the party considerably between June and the convention.
In her mind, Hillary has won fair and square. She dealt with a tumultuous eight years as First Lady. She worked hard to serve New York as their senator. She dealt with the unexpected loss to Obama and got on board. She served as his SecState. She lined up the entire Democratic Party establishment behind her. She campaigned harder for the nomination than most expected.
She has three million more votes, has won more states, has significantly more earned delegates. In her mind, this is over. It’s time for the Berners to rally around her. It’s an understandable sentiment, but also very dangerous to her cause. Most Americans are not concerned about Hillary getting her just rewards.
Here’s the thing. Hillary won the Democratic nomination. Like she says, it’s over (unless the FBI says otherwise.) He’s not going to win. However, Berners aren’t Democrats. They are Progressives (and then some). Their presence inside the Democratic coalition is due to our two-party system, not any great feeling of fealty to the party.
The ’08 split between Hillary and Obama was different. Much as now, she ran better among Democrats than Independents. When the nominee is the candidate who does better outside the party, it’s easier to pull things together. Obama’s Independents were going to look forward to voting for him, and Hillary’s Democrats would eventually support the standard bearer.
We’re seeing some of this effect with Trump right now. His Independent supporters are overjoyed and at least some stalwart Republicans are coming around. As the outsider, he’s in the process of winning over the party. He may not get there in time. He may wind up losing because there are just a few too many #NeverTrump voters. But the people he needs are registered Republicans who regularly vote.
If this were a European-style parliamentary system, Berners would exist as a separate party. They would support the Democrats to form a government. It’s unimaginable that his team would ally with Trump’s GOP. There are a few/some Democrats who voted for Bernie in the primaries and will support Trump in the fall. These are generally disgruntled voters, not Berners.
I’m talking about the millions of people who donated to the campaign, participated as volunteers, made calls, went to organizing events, etc. They don’t like (sometimes hate) Trump. They definitely don’t self-identify as Republicans. If they belonged to a separate party (Euro-style) they could vote for their guy in November, without putting Trump in the White House.
As long as the Democrats and Berners combined to win a majority of seats, they could form a coalition government with Hillary as Prime Minister, Bernie in a key cabinet position, and a couple other cabinet slots going to Berners. In this alternative world, a few more prominent elected officials would have joined the Berners, knowing they had more chance of influence on his team then far down on Hillary’s list.
In that world, Hillary and the Democrats would understand they depended on the Berners to form a government. They would realize several concessions were necessary. They would do whatever they needed to pacify. Even if the Berners ran against them during the general campaign, any votes they pulled away would effectively wind up back in the coalition after the post-election deal was consummated.
Hillary (and all of the loyal Democratic elected officials and commentators backing her position) is acting as though we are in a normal American election season, one where the party gets behind a legitimately nominated candidate. While the Berners are showing similarities to the New Left that walked out on Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Hillary went through the full primary process. Humphrey ditched any open contests and was foisted on the convention by Lyndon Johnson.
Humphrey was stuck supporting Johnson’s Vietnam policy, before eventually breaking with it a few weeks ahead of Election Day. Hillary has already flipped on most topics where Berners don’t agree with her. It’s not her current positions that are the problem. It’s her track record. It’s her. They don’t trust her. At all.
They’ve seen Hillary attempt to reach out to #NeverTrump Republicans. They know she’s a somewhat to very recent convert to many of Bernie’s principles. They know they have no leverage once the convention is over. They believe in Bernie, they believe in his policy ideas. They do not believe in the Democratic Party of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
In calling for Bernie to back off, to go away, to remember his place and get with the program, they are driving a wedge between his core supporters and the Clinton campaign. Again, these are not people who have spent decades loyally voting for Democrats the way Trump skeptics have for Republicans.
This isn’t irreconcilable. There is still time for Hillary to minimize the damage and work harder to make Berners feel included. But she and her supporters are moving in exactly the opposite direction. The longer this goes, the more Wasserman Schultz says, the harder it is to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
If Hillary and her people could start looking at the Berners through that parliamentary prism, it would be a good start. She needs them in November (at a minimum for down ballot races.) They are not hers. They will never be hers. It’s a coalition. She’s not Obama.
She also isn’t in Humphrey’s spot. The New Left of 1968 didn’t have a single individual to rally around. While her nomination was more legitimately earned, there’s another party leader (Sanders) to draw their focus. Back then, the left split between Robert F. Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy. After Kennedy’s Assassination, George McGovern became an option. This is different.
Figure Clinton has about two weeks to accept this. Then it’s too late. Not to win the election, but to not spend the next several months, followed by possibly the next several years regretting her stance. Bernie is her coalition partner, not just a normal runner-up who will step aside for the nominee.