Running a national campaign is hard.
I've never done it. You've never done it. Hillary Clinton tried to do it once before and came up short. Bernie Sanders had never done it until this year. So it should come as no surprise then that in running for the highest elected office in the land, there remains a bit of a learning curve even if you've done it before. For Hillary Clinton and her team, they set out on a mission to avoid making the same mistakes that cost them the 2008 democratic nomination; specifically by making a commitment to focus on the delegate math by racking up delegates in states that favored her demographically, and to work for every last vote in states that favored Bernie Sanders demographically. On the flip side, Bernie Sanders and his team set out on a mission to create a "political revolution" where millions of people would rise up, rage against Wall Street, and sweep Sanders and a progressive House and Senate into office in 2017.
The problem with that approach is that it completely ignores reality.
Starting in May, Sanders made two specific campaign promises: first, that he would run a clean campaign and not attack Hillary Clinton. And second, that he would outrightly reject outside money, specifically that from super PACS. On the surface, these two promises made sense in that they allowed Sanders to take the high road, which played well into his "anti-establishment" view of Washington and it also allowed him to prove that with enough public support a candidate could successfully take on and defeat a more established candidate with a much bigger political warchest like Hillary Clinton. This was the approach taken by Sanders' campaign managers Jeff Weaver and Tad Devine, the latter of the two having worked on previous presidential campaigns for Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and John Kerry. By creating this type of persona, Weaver and Devine hoped to create a candidate who spoke largely to the progressive left who felt the current administration simply wasn't progressive enough and to young millennial voters who feel that government isn't doing all that it can to support them and their needs.
However, Sanders quickly found that this manufactured persona simply could not compete with the Clinton political machine. After the October 13th Democratic debate Sanders said his now famous line that people are "sick and tired" of hearing about Hillary Clinton's "damn emails." The line earned applause from the audience and as well as a grateful handshake from Hillary Clinton. In fact, during the November 14th debate Sanders again stated his ambivalence toward the email situation and insisted he "still doesn't give a damn" about Hillary Clinton's emails. But then, the very next day Sanders went on record by saying that if Clinton's email practices foiled public-records requests or compromised classified information then those were "valid questions" as he put it. Whether it was Weaver or Devine whispering in his ear or simply Sanders choosing to do so, there can be no doubt that this was the point in the Sanders campaign where he broke his first campaign promise of running a clean campaign.
Since that time, Sanders has been unrelenting in his attacks on Hillary Clinton and her character. He has attacked her on Wall Street. He has attacked her on her ties to big banks. He has attacked her for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs. He has attacked her on campaign contributions. He has attacked her on free trade. He has attacked her on the environment. In fact, at this point his very stump speech is now laced with multiple attacks against Hillary Clinton. This, combined with the fact that Karl Rove is also running attack ads against Clinton, has now made the Democratic presidential primary a mudslinging free-for-all that Sanders promised he'd avoid. However, from that point in November on Sanders saw how his attacks helped him in the polls and provided good media fodder so he has continued to use them ever since.
In addition to attacking Clinton, Sanders had to do everything in his power prove that his campaign was for real leading up to the Iowa caucus. So he put all of his financial resources into the Hawkeye State. And not just his resources but also those of any groups or organizations willing to help out including the National Nurses United for Patient Protection, a super PAC affiliated with the National Nurses United union. The nurses not only went around Iowa attending rallies but they also donated roughly $400,000 to two separate unlimited-spending groups supporting Sanders - California-based Progressive Kick and Chicago-based Reclaim Chicago. In the end, Sanders was slightly outspent by Clinton in Iowa, but he saw how effective ad buys could be in helping to keep his campaign competitive.
So Sanders began to spend and spend big. His campaign took in $20 million in January and they ended up outspending Clinton by nearly a million dollars in New Hampshire. From that point forward, there began a steady stream of Sanders actually outspending Clinton from primary to primary. Sanders spent nearly twice as much as Clinton in Nevada but lost the state. He spent millions in South Carolina and lost there by nearly 50 points. He outspent Clinton in Massachusetts by a nearly 3:1 margin and lost there making it his closest defeat on Super Tuesday. And, most recently, Sanders outspent Hillary Clinton in North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, as well as a nearly 4:1 margin in Missouri and lost all four states on March 15th.
However not only is Sanders not getting a return on his investment, but he's also currently under FEC investigation to which the campaign must respond by March 17th. As much as Sanders likes to tout his campaign contributions, now 5 million and counting, it appears that a significant number of these contributions may have in fact been illegal. From October of 2015 to January, the FEC flagged 665 foreign donations as well as 3,500 contributions that were over-limit. This is not small potatoes here. The limit for an individual contribution is $2,700 which means that these 3,500 contributors are over-paying by hundreds, if not, thousands of dollars which each contribution. This could easily explain how Sanders just recently reported that his campaign brought in a whopping $42 million in contributions for the month of February.
But even these two aspects of the campaign, the negative attacks and the large spending, could be justified if Sanders was able to deliver on his campaign promise: that millions would rise up and create a political revolution in this country. Unfortunately, that too has fallen woefully flat of expectations. Democratic turnout is down nearly 8% from 2008, the year in which Barack Obama ran what many view as a revolutionary campaign. In fact, Democratic turnout was down a whopping 32% on Super Tuesday and was down in all five states on March 15th including down nearly 50% in the key swing-state of Ohio. At this point of the campaign, Sanders trails Clinton by 2.5 million votes meaning his political revolution is either so excited that they forgot to vote or that there was never a desire for revolution in the first place.
Not only that, but Sanders also hasn't done a single thing to help down-ballot candidates of the Democratic Party. While Hillary Clinton's Victory Fund has raised at least $26 million for the national Democratic Party and its state groups, Sanders has a raised a total of $1,000 and that amount was provided by the Democratic National Committee for him to open a joint fundraising account. However he has yet to add to this account and has yet to do any fundraising for anyone not named Bernie Sanders. It would appear odd then that with significantly lower turnout than 2008 that Sanders wouldn't be contributing at least some of his record fundraising amount to at least a few Democratic congressional candidates who could help tip the balance of power in the House or Senate and allow Sanders to then enact his progressive political agenda. However, Sanders has instead horded the money for himself as has used it for his own campaign rather than down-ballot Democratic candidates.
In the end, the candidate currently leading the Democratic primary is the candidate who is running the cleaner campaign. The one who had access to a video of their opponent saying controversial things in the mid-1980s but chose not to use it for attack purposes. The one who is speaking positively of our president and his accomplishments. The one who is being outspent in multiple states but is winning because their campaign is better organized and their campaign workers and volunteers aren't taking a single vote for granted. The one who is taking in 94% of their campaign contributions from individuals. The one who is drawing enthusiastic voters to the polls and who has more votes than anyone this election cycle, including Donald Trump. The one who is taking time of their busy campaign schedule to host fundraisers for down-ballot Democratic candidates, knowing full well that this is the only way to pass meaningful progressive legislation once the new president takes office. This person, this particular candidate, is the one who is truly running a "revolutionary" campaign.
And that candidate's name is Hillary Clinton.
Running a national campaign is hard.