Winners Don't Whine: Why I am Ecstatic that Bernie Sanders wants a Contested Democratic Convention
Hillary Clinton has decidedly switched over to general election mode, as her campaign has begun to hire staff in crucial swing states that have already voted in the primary. Her campaign has put out the message that they will not be treating Donald Trump with kid gloves, either.
Bernie Sanders, much like his Republican likelihood-counterpart at this point in the primary Ted Cruz, is gasping for attention in the middle of all of this, as his fundraising haul has begun to collapse. The drop is a good sign when it comes to Democratic unity, as it indicates that not that many of his supporters reside in the Bernie or Bust bubble that is insulated from reality.
Going forward, Sen. Sanders is less frequently making the case for his agenda items and more frequently for an insider game designed to persuade superdelegates, pointing to historically meaningless general election polling of a primary electorate claiming he is a better candidate to beat Donald Trump. He has announced that he plans to take his losing fight all the way to the floor of the Democratic National Convention because for some reason, even though superdelegates are undemocratic and bad, a pledged delegate majority should not be enough to guarantee Hillary Clinton the nomination, in Sanders' mind.
I am ecstatic about this move. Seriously. For one thing, the strategy is no threat to Hillary Clinton actually being nominated. The elected officials and party leaders who are automatic delegates to the convention are already heavily in favor of Clinton, and they are not looking to reverse themselves in order to overturn the will of the Democratic primary electorate.
But the bigger point is a weakened Bernie Sanders whose path to the nomination is pretty much nil insisting on making this pass actually strengthens Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate against Donald Trump. This perfectly sets Sanders up as a sore loser who is only raising questions about the rules being unfair after it's become apparent that he is going to lose. Especially now that the main stream media has followed TPV's lead and figured out that it was caucuses, which Sanders mostly won, and not open primary balloting, which Sanders mostly lost, is the real affront to democracy in the primary contest, Sanders has very little case to make even on the participatory democracy front.
One thing to understand here is that when I talk about leverage, I am not talking about crass political "what's in it for me" type of advantage. I'm speaking of substantive leverage for the kind of changes one wishes to have. In 2008, Hillary Clinton was much, much closer to Barack Obama in delegates than Sanders is to Clinton now, but Hillary Clinton dropped out and used the leverage she had gained from the primary process to three goals: to elect a Democratic president (and what an amazing ride that turned out to be), to show that in America, there is nothing women and girls can't do, and to secure her spot in the minds of her then-adversary's supporters - which appears to have helped her a great deal this time around.
Bernie Sanders is not going to run for president again (well, probably not). But he could use his leverage to secure a great deal of progressive reforms within the Democratic party - if, as he says, progressive reforms are actually what he cared about. As a candidate who has time and again called for a political revolution starting with a groundswell of voter turnout, Sanders could have started with a demand to eliminate caucuses in the Democratic primary, as they have the lowest turnout rates and disadvantage anyone without the time or resources to spend 4-5 hours arguing about their choice for president on a weeknight or a Saturday morning. He did not.
Bernie Sanders could have galvanized his formidable group of small donors and raised for the Democratic party - or even for those Congressional candidates he considers fellow travelers - more in a night than a dozen big-dollar fundraisers and proved his point that it's the movement and not a narrow personal following that's producing that effect, strengthening his case that even in the age of Citizens United, Democrats can both reject bigger donors and not have to fight with one hand tied behind their backs. He did not.
The point is, if Bernie Sanders insists on "contesting" a convention he knows has already been decided, even people who like Sanders will start to see him as interested only in himself. In fact, some in his home state of Vermont already have. The longer he keeps up the facade of a competition, though, the more his actual influence, both at the convention and among voters, will diminish. If Hillary Clinton proves that she - and by that time President Obama - can unite liberals and the center-Left and put together a general election coalition without Sanders' explicit support, there will be little incentive to allow Sanders or his platform to get much airing either at the convention or the general election campaign trail.
Put another way, at this point, the self-styled progressive gatekeeper staying in the race can undermine his platform, and his exit from the race can elevate his platform. That's quite the paradox.
But maybe not. Because in the battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the contrasts will be clear. One one side, we will have a candidate who won by playing victim to the political establishment, and on the other we will have Hillary Clinton, who once lost and once won by playing by the rules, not by complaining about them. On one side, there will be Donald Trump, who is the product of anger burning down their own house, and on the other we will have a strong, clear-headed policy wonk who did not give into anger to get her party's nomination. When it comes down to a choice for voters to pick between these two who they want to be in possession of the nuclear launch codes, as President Obama would say, it's anyone's guess who she will be.
Donald Trump has two tricks up his sleeve: insults and painting his opponents as weak. But against Hillary Clinton, the insults are already backfiring, as Hillary Clinton raised $2.5 million in the aftermath of Trump's "woman card" comment. That leaves painting her as weak. But Donald Trump has also promised to use Bernie Sanders' comments during the primary against Hillary Clinton - many of those comments no doubt related to their common complaints about the process. That will be Hillary Clinton's opportunity to say that she withstood a challenge from purists, did not give in, did not make a deal, and it was Donald Trump who won by whining. So who's weak, Donald?
Bottom line, Bernie Sanders bringing the vote to the convention floor when he is in such a weakened state both in terms of the popular vote and in terms of pledged delegates will at once weaken the hold of the ideologues within the Democratic party without actually threatening the nomination of Hillary Clinton and it will weaken Donald Trump's attempt to pick away at the Left's voters by complaining about process.
I'm excited. Thanks, Bernie!
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