Blissful Ignorance: How Bernie Sanders Set Himself Up to Fail in New York - And in Policymaking
Hillary Clinton looks to have defeated Bernie Sanders in New York by nearly 300,000 votes, becoming the only candidate in either party to have broken 10 million votes in the 2016 primary campaign. Clinton received more votes than all three Republicans combined on the New York ballot, and she now leads Sanders by 2.7 million votes and 741 delegates. With 1930 delegates to Bernie's 1189, Hillary Clinton is now 81% of the way to securing the 2,383 delegates she needs to win the Democratic nomination.
Bernie Sanders' new campaign line is that Hillary Clinton was always expected to win in New York, with it being the state that elected her to the Senate twice. But It was none other than Sen. Sanders who set up the expectation game for an upset victory despite the weight of home turf and the polls favoring Clinton. As Rachel Maddow chronicled for all posterity in a segment about Bernie Sanders' war on downballot Democrats, it was Bernie Sanders who again and again bragged that he was going to win New York.
In retrospect, it appears that Bernie Sanders wasn't only attacking the downballot Democratic fundraisers as a diversion from his own possible illegal fundraising, but also - or maybe even primarily - to redirect attention from what his campaign on the eve of the New York primary realized would be a slaughter at the polls.
So why do this? Why set yourself up to fail this badly? Why talk up, again and again and through the means of the candidate rather than the surrogate no less, that you would win a state that actually would be fairly easy to excuse a big loss in if you hadn't yourself set the expectation for an upset (given it's your opponent's home state)?
Because Bernie Sanders had no choice. For months now, he has been confined to winning states where the Democratic electorate is more than 80% (and in many cases more than 90%) white and caucus states where the process is far less democratic and the turnout is abysmal compared to primary balloting. The charge that Bernie Sanders is not qualified to be the Democratic standardbearer because he keeps winning the Republican demographic within the Democratic primary is something he has not been able to shake because it is broadly true.
His campaign also shortsightedly set up a "calendar" argument after Hillary Clinton's punishing victories in states with a high proportion of black voters as well as in pivotal large, important states like Florida, Ohio, and Illinois. He and the top brass of his campaign consciously and repeatedly made the case that now that the primaries were moving out of "the deep south", Sanders would be in a better position to win, win big, and overwhelm Clinton. By setting up that argument, the Sanders campaign shot itself in the foot as his victories in a series of caucus states in late March and early April were seen as simply the "calendar" being friendly to the Vermonter rather than any particular success for his campaign.
And so, Sanders needed - needs - to prove badly that he could win in a diverse primary in a big state. That's why Bernie Sanders started making the argument in early April that he believed Hillary Clinton was "getting nervous" that he would beat her in New York. The media latched onto that narrative, since this would be one victory one would not expect Sanders to have given the... calendar.
Rounding it all up was Bernie's faith in the delusion he and his campaign created buoyed by large rallies of adoring, mostly white, teens and tweens. Bernie Sanders may well have actually believed that holding large rallies would deliver him a victory in his native state, because he can't quite shake the idea that he is deliverance. Instead of working hard to earn the support of the Democratic base, he simply asserted they will, because they must. He approached the vote much the same way he approaches the agenda items on his platform: if you demand something loudly enough and get enough cheers to support it, practicality is irrelevant - it will happen because they believe it has to.
Has to. This is important. Bernie Sanders and his campaign did not just believe they would win New York, but that he had to win New York. Because Bernie is deliverance. Because a Sanders victory in New York would shake the Clinton campaign to its core and prove that the great Bernie aura has finally come into the view of non-whites as well.
That did not happen. Not only did Bernie Sanders lose African Americans in New York 3:1 and Hispanics 2:1, Hillary Clinton fought him to a draw among white voters. Bernie Sanders even lost ground in his key demographic: young voters. While Bernie held a commanding lead among voters under 30, Clinton won every age group above 30, including the 30-39 group. Clinton routed Sanders 2:1 among women, while men were evenly split.
What all of this goes into say is that Bernie Sanders set himself up to fail in New York by ignoring reality. The reality of his embarrassing disconnect with voters of color. The disconnect of the rockstar reception and the reality of the voting booth. The reality that Democratic voters are not piping for a candidate who wants to tear down the Democratic party and the revolutionary accomplishments of the sitting Democratic president. The reality that his path to the Democratic nomination is increasingly limited and near non-existent.
The blissful ignorance of reality is not merely what Bernie Sanders' New York optimism was based on, however. His policy proposals are based on the same ignorance. He does not believe that he has to justify his stands with a practical plan, because much like his belief about New York, Bernie Sanders believes that the country will enact his wishlist simply because he is deliverance.
And that is the recipe for failure.
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