Bernie Sanders and his rag tag team of hashtag-feel-the-bern-ers are fond of recounting Hillary Clinton's experience in 2008 when the one-time far-out frontrunner was defeated by a upstart senator from Illinois we now know as President Barack Obama. Again and again, Sanders and his campaign have drawn parallels between himself and then-Senator Obama as a candidate: in packing campaign events with college students and in raising money in small donations.
In Iowa's Democratic caucuses last night, Sanders and Clinton pulled even for most of the night, although Clinton edged out an ever-so-slight victory. While the battle of the numbers rage, however, one thing became clear from the Democratic caucuses last night: Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama.
Despite all his bravado and white-washed crowds holding up "Feel the Bern" signs, Iowa proved last night that Bernie's appeal is intense but small, that his message is resonating with no one but narrow segments of voters that are already a minority in America and an even smaller minority in the Democratic party.
How did the margins look compared to eight years ago?
|Margin Against Hillary Clinton, Iowa Democratic Caucus
Barack Obama 2008 vs. Bernie Sanders 2016
|Bloc of voters||Obama 2008||Sanders 2016|
|Top Issue: Health Care||+4||-21|
|Top Issue: Economy/Jobs||+10||-9|
|Decided on Caucus day||+11||-3|
|Decided within few days||+11||0|
Sanders won among white males, students and non-Democrats (not surprising, given he's not actually been a Democrat until recently) while Hillary Clinton defeated him among essentially every other demographic. Eight years ago, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton among a broad swath of voters: he won among men and women, cities and suburbs, Democrats and independents, every single income group, very liberals and liberals and moderates. He won voters who saw the economy as the most important issue, those who viewed health care as the top issue and those who saw foreign policy as the top issue. Obama also won every age group except over 65's.
Bernie Sanders? He was beaten handily among Democrats in the Democratic caucuses, and lost the most crucial Democratic voting bloc (in any state without a significant population of color), women, by nearly 10 points. Yes, he won white males, college kids, and merely tied Clinton in the cities (while losing other regions). Heck, he couldn't even win voters who saw the economy and jobs as their top issue, losing that bloc to Clinton by 9 points. You had to narrow the issue down to income inequality for Bernie to win a single issue.
Hillary Clinton obliterated Mr. Single Payer among health care voters by a whopping 21 points.
But in what could, more than any of the other statistics, be a sign of things to come, late deciders broke slightly in favor of Hillary Clinton last night. Late deciders broke for Obama eight years ago by 10 points or more.
Oh, and one more thing. The guy who is running on the promise of leading a political revolution could not improve Democratic turnout in the caucuses. In fact, turnout fell by nearly 70,000 voters on the Democratic side compared to 2008, when Barack Obama's presence on the ballot actualized the promise of a record Democratic turnout.
Iowa did not broaden Bernie Sanders' narrow appeal. It confirmed it. Sanders' support is intense but narrow, and he remains incapable of building the type of broad coalition Barack Obama did in 2008. Sanders is stuck with adoring support among largely white and male populations - typically a strength of the Republicans whereas the only majority in the Democratic party is formed by women. Sanders' support is intense among white-privileged college students, who, well-intentioned as they may be, lack the experiences that force black and brown kids to grow up quickly and either avoid or are largely unaware of the full scale of work it takes to actually make progress towards the political goals they espouse.
Bernie Sanders is no Barack Obama. Yes, Barack Obama inspired young people. But his appeal reached more than just to white college towns. Yes, Barack Obama won independents in Iowa. But he also eaked out a victory among members of the party whose nomination he was seeking. Yes, he won self-proclaimed super liberals. But he convinced pragmatic liberals that he could get things done and moderates that he would listen. Yes, he won the men's vote. But he also won women's.
Pretty soon, the primaries will move out of the white belt. Pretty soon, the winning Democrat will have to take their appeal to mothers who have their sons shot in gun violence, to women who will demand an explanation for un-called for attacks on the Planned Parenthood by a supposed Democrat, to a diverse coalition of people who will demand action and not words on immigration and criminal justice, to parents of young children who can no longer be denied health insurance because of autism, to Democrats who place accomplishments above table pounding.
Pretty soon, women and men young and old will demand to know why Bernie is pushing a health care plan that could end affordable abortion for poor and working women with a plan to increases medical expenses of the average family funded by flat taxes. What, those who most benefited from Obamacare (read: minorities and women), will want to know, is the hurry in destroying the progress President Obama has made on the basis of a poorly designed, inadequate replacement?
Pretty soon, the question is going to be asked how a brand new Democrat, whose crowds look like the Republican convention when it comes to ethnic diversity, will win the White House with appeal this narrow and with all attempts, if anything, to simply intensify that narrow appeal rather than broaden it.
These candidates are running for president of the United States - of the young and old, of white, black and brown, of gay and straight, and yes, even of liberals, moderates and even conservatives. Not only will a candidate without broad appeal not win the presidency, a candidate without such broad appeal should not be president.