June 1, 2016
A week from today, all but the residents of Washington D.C. will have had the opportunity to participate in the Democratic Party’s nomination process. They’re stuck waiting until the 14th. At first, the Sanders campaign argued they should stay in the fight because they had a legitimate chance to win the nomination.
The delegate math has worked against them since the first Super Tuesday on March 1. It became extremely unlikely after Hillary swept the March 15 contests. New York made an earned delegate win virtually impossible on April 19. Right around that time, the pitch shifted from winning to making sure all voters had a chance to participate in the process. The campaign didn’t say they couldn’t catch up, but making sure California and New Jersey (among others) had their say was paramount.
Bernie was never likely to win New Jersey. Hillary has retained an advantage throughout the polling in California. A couple surveys have put him within range, but the most recently released poll from the Hoover Institution (taken earlier in the month), shows Clinton with a 13 point edge. FiveThirtyEight is giving Hillary a 93% to 97% chance of winning the state.
This means the most likely outcome results in Hillary winning 9 of the 10 largest states (by population) and 17 of the largest 20. Part of the reason she has a multi-million lead in votes is the higher amount of voters in the states she wins. Bernie will wind up with victories in 9 of the 10 smallest states (Delaware is the exception.)
This doesn’t mean she’s up for taking any chances. Things are close enough that Clinton is planning to spend plenty of time in California in the final week leading up to the primary. Governor Jerry Brown just endorsed her. He might have preferred to remain neutral, and attacked Bill Clinton in the 1992 primaries for funneling state business to Hillary’s law firm, but it’s all hands on deck for the Democratic infrastructure.
Respected senior Senator Dianne Feinstein has encouraged Bernie to bow to the inevitable. As in most places, any Democrat who means anything on a statewide level is firmly behind Clinton. This support has proven instrumental in winning her the nomination. No one endorsement is that significant. Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn’t completely change the course of the contest by limiting debates and encouraging time slots without viewers. The combination is another matter.
For all the unforeseen events of 2016, this cycle is once again showing the party decides. While Donald Trump made GOP leaders appear completely powerless, that was more due to their inability to rally around an alternative, than a complete loss of influence. A divided leadership was no match for The Donald, but had he gone head-to-head with a single, universally acceptable (to the leadership) alternative from the beginning, the way Bernie had to, we would have seen a different outcome.
Trump might have won anyway. Some of his vanquished foes were weak campaigners, and wouldn’t have fared well head-to-head. He may very well defeat Hillary one-on-one too. But the biggest factor was division in the anti-Trump ranks. When he showed weakness in Wisconsin, #NeverTrump hid for a few weeks instead of risking a Cruz nomination by going all out.
A combination of a very united establishment and stalwart registered Democrat voters has locked up the nomination for the candidate who does worse with left-leaning independents and worse in head-to-head matches against Trump. Assuming Clinton holds on in California, it will illustrate how she got this done.
While nonaffiliated voters are welcome to grab a Democratic ballot, the 60% of voters who participate through the mail needed to specifically request one if eligible. Thousands of voters switched registration to participate, but chose American Independent, which is an actual party and will make them ineligible to participate in the Democratic primary.
If Clinton wins by 10 points, these factors just altered the margin. If it’s a close win, they may wind up making the difference. Either way, Sanders isn’t going away. At an event in Santa Cruz, CA yesterday, Bernie vowed to take this to the convention, even if he loses both California and New Jersey.
Hillary and the establishment were able to ensure she won the nomination. She effectively used her resources to win crucial contests each time her back was against the wall. Though a California loss can’t cost her the nomination, a defeat would look awful, hence the all-in approach. But they can’t make Bernie go away.
As we’ve pointed out before, he has little to lose by continuing. He’s not a Senate insider. He’s not at risk of losing critical committee chairmanships (or being the ranking minority member if the GOP retains control.) He’s not worried about killing his chances in 2020 or 2024. He may have interest in a place on the ticket itself. When queried on his receptiveness, Bernie indicates it’s premature, but won’t dismiss it.
If he concedes after Hillary reaches her delegate number on the 7th, he loses leverage. If Hillary were 10 to 15 points up on Trump in the polls, if he hadn’t recently closed the gap, Clinton and the DNC could continue to freeze Bernie out. But they need his voters, both the younger ones who could stay home, and the older ones who are at risk of defecting to Trump (at least the less progressive ones.)
Should Bill Kristol actually manage to find a conservative third party candidate to enter the fight (he’s still insisting it can/will happen), the argument that Bernie’s intransigence is singlehandedly leading to a possible President Trump would weaken. Everyone will assume such a candidate would take more voters from the GOP nominee. This would further free up Sanders to take all the time he wants.
Bernie and his core supporters have a price. But it’s a steep one. They won’t sit by as she shifts back to the middle in an attempt to win over moderate voters with severe Trump qualms. They’ll expect a convention platform that looks a lot more like the Sanders agenda. They’ll want to see Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or someone from that side of the party on the ticket.
The party infrastructure and almost universal endorsements got Hillary nominated, but it won’t automatically unify her pool of needed voters. Bernie will continue to haunt her until she is willing to negotiate with him on relatively equal footing. As he should.