It’s that time of election year again: time for the party to dust off the Ralph Nader effigy and start scaring little children. Bernie Sanders may well yet become the Democratic party nominee, but that does not stop Clinton supporters from referring to him as “Nader” and preemptively blaming Sanders’ supporters for “helping to elect Trump.”
Let’s see what actually happened with Nader
In the 2000 presidential election, leftist activist Ralph Nader ran as a Green party candidate. Democrats still blame him for Al Gore losing the election to Republican George Bush. From the perspective of Democrats, a 3rd party progressive candidate attracts votes of some progressives who would otherwise vote for the Democratic candidate and thus “spoils” the Democratic candidate’s chances.
In retrospect, Democrats claim that they always have been “on the same side” as progressives, but simply don’t believe the country was/is ready for a really progressive platform. They also claim that in order to fight Republicans who are “the real evil,” they had to start taking money from special interests to be viable in elections. In other words, they are claiming ideological kinship with progressives, but a different, “pragmatic” strategy. That is the basis for the high moral ground they take with 3rd party candidates and voters. According to Democrats, progressives have a moral duty to join them in their “realistic” plan. Anything more to the left is dismissed as poisonous “ideological purity.” Republican wins are always blamed on lack of participation from “purist” progressives. Third party candidates are despised as “Naders,” and those voting for them as “Nader supporters”.
Bernie Sander’s candidacy shows Democrats aren’t willing to stand up for progressive change
Sanders revealed through his fantastic rise in national polls and almost splitting states and delegates with the “pragmatic” Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, that the country is ready for a progressive platform. Furthermore, he has wide support among independents, many of whom were not able to vote in the primaries due to restrictive rules. He is also a magnet for hundreds of thousands of new voters. Much of this support comes from people who are to the left of the Democratic party.
Bernie Sanders also revealed a way for the Democratic party to unshackle itself from special interest dollars. He showed that the candidates can appeal to citizens directly and raise funds online. He broke all presidential primary fundraising records: monthly record for funds raised, total funds raised from small donors, the number of donors and donations. Bernie has also already shown that he can do the same for progressive down ticket candidates. Tim Canova, the candidate for South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, raised a quarter million dollars in one day from Bernie’s fundraising e-mail. Nothing short of impressive.
That means that the Democrats can nominate a candidate with a progressive platform, who doesn’t take money from special interests, and who has a chance to bring on his coat-tails a number of equally progressive candidates into Congress. Everything the party claims to care about.
Logically, party leadership should have jumped at this historic opportunity to move the party back to the left. It’s understandable that at the beginning they were genuinely afraid Bernie Sanders’ appeal didn’t extend beyond the white male intellectuals who were the first to support him. But when his meteoric rise showed that he was a viable candidate, there should have come a point when party leadership should have started supporting him, if they were truly invested in change. Instead, they so visibly threw their support behind Hillary Clinton, comedian Larry Wilmore quipped in his White House Correspondents Dinner speech: “Man, you have to admit, it is a really tough race between Senator Sanders and Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.”
Sorry, Governor Brown, Hillary Clinton would be sweeping her own party primaries if she was a strong candidate
Right now Democratic party leaders are pushing the narrative that Clinton and Sanders have practically identical platforms, erasing such major differences as Sanders’ focus on getting special interests’ money out of politics, his aggressive approach to climate change, his strong anti-regime-change stand, his plan to break up the big banks and curb Wall Street fraud, his commitment to a “living wage” for the working class, his plans to expand Social Security, provide healthcare and free public college to all Americans, and his commitment to invest in infrastructure rather than prisons and war. Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown, in his endorsement of Hillary Clinton, reduced Bernie’s platform to one issue by saying:”He has driven home the message that the top one percent has unfairly captured way too much of America’s wealth, leaving the majority of people far behind.” He quickly moved on to Hillary Clinton’s superior numbers in the primaries and the threat Donald Trump poses to the country, seemingly implying that Clinton would be the stronger candidate in the general election.
But is that true?
Let’s start with the obvious observation that if Hillary Clinton was the stronger candidate, she should be sweeping in the primaries in her own party. But Clinton and Sanders practically split the state wins and Sanders won 46% of the pledged delegates to her 54%. Popular vote should not even be mentioned in the primaries because of a completely different nature of primaries and caucuses.
Sanders’ strength, as shown by polls and actual results from the primaries, is independents and new voters. Both are heavily underrepresented in the primary results. In many states, independents were excluded from voting in Democratic primaries. Many Bernie supporters couldn’t vote for him on the election day because they learned about him too late to register to vote on time. This is especially sad because it means that the strategy of the Democratic party to give very little exposure to the candidates through the debates worked well against Sanders. That his numbers go up with people getting acquainted with his platform is not only confirmed by polls, but also by the fact that Bernie has won the “election day voters” in many states which he lost due to the early voters who overwhelmingly picked Clinton.
Presumably, almost all Democrats will vote for the Democratic nominee in November as “nothing is more important than defeating Trump,” at least that’s what they are telling Bernie Sanders supporters. Bernie adds independents to this number. He is attracting around 50% of the independent vote. As they form around 40% of the electorate, that means that Bernie is adding about 20% of voters!
Much is made of Hillary replicating Obama’s coalition, but there are serious cracks in it. While Clinton indeed appeals more to black voters, Sanders wins among young blacks. Bernie is also currently polling as the preferred candidate of Latinos, both nationally and in the upcoming primary in California. Most importantly there is no “Obama coalition” without young voters. Bernie not only outperformed Hillary but also the current President’s results from 2008 primaries by 13%.
Bernie won the total under-45 vote in this election (59% to 41%) and he wins Millennial voters in every category over Hillary: liberals, conservatives, men, women, whites, Latinos, blacks, Native Americans, and Muslims. These are the beginnings of a real Rainbow Coalition state!
The young voters are important for many reasons, but strategically for November they are super important as a category that is dramatically under-registered and if we get them excited about the political process they will be crucial to defeating Trump. Bernie’s nomination would practically guarantee the high level of enthusiasm among young Americans would continue.
Sanders is doing consistently very well in match-ups against Trump with a much higher lead than Clinton. In various polls, he wins over Trump nationally up to double digits. He wins battleground states where she loses to Trump, precisely because of independents. He wins independents, overall and in battleground states. Also, Clinton’s strategy is based on media fuelling Latinos against Trump, but even with Latinos, she loses to Bernie: he has a 51% lead to Trump among Latinos; she only 36%.
Clinton allies in the media point to the fact that her lead over Trump would rise after she got the Democratic nomination, but the same is true for Bernie Sanders. Pro-Clinton pundits claim Bernie is being spared by the media on the issue of being a “self-proclaimed socialist” while at the same time they have been mentioning that in every article they wrote about him. No, it is well known by now that Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” and it is obvious that as voters are learning about him his favorability ratings are rising. The truth is that people in the US are increasingly self-identifying as “working class” and “socialism” is not a dirty word anymore.
Democrats are willing to risk losing to Trump rather than to nominate Bernie Sanders
Bernie’s candidacy showed the Democrats were not ready to fight for a progressive candidate even when he started winning states with his unapologetically progressive platform. Bernie is doing so well that barring some extraordinary event Hillary will not be able to reach the needed majority of the delegates through the primary process itself. Thus, the nomination will be decided by the superdelegates at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July. Not to mention the fact that Clinton is currently being investigated by the FBI. With general election math clearly on Sanders’ side now would be the time for the party to reconsider Sanders, if they were serious about defeating Trump. Instead, they are digging their heels in, as shown by the recent Clinton endorsement from California Governor Jerry Brown.
Two contradictory strategies are floated for making up the difference between Clinton and Sanders before November. Both contribute to exposing the perennial “Nader bluff.” Sanders has been viciously called “Nader”, a “spoiler” from the beginning of this race, despite the fact that one of the reasons he decided to run as a Democrat rather than independent was to avoid splitting the progressive vote. One has to conclude calling him a spoiler was simply to remind him along the way that he was not wanted in the party, that he was an outsider, that the progressives, in reality, are wanted only as obedient voters for the Democratic nominee, not as allies with equal standing. A surprising development in this election is a growing movement called “Bernie Or Bust.” By announcing their existence early and by demonstrating numbers in polls, they have become a real political force. They are saying to the Democratic party: “your candidate is simply not acceptable to us, if you want us as part of your anti-Trump coalition you must nominate the progressive candidate – Bernie Sanders. It’s in your hands.” The party is not addressing the movement directly yet, but individual Clinton supporters have been active for months online, reminding Bernie or Bust supporters of Nader and of their “moral duty” to vote against Trump, that is to vote for Clinton in the general election. To which Bernie Or Bust supporters respond: “you must nominate the progressive candidate – Bernie Sanders. It’s in your hands.” Since Bernie is not only their preferred candidate but also a clearly stronger candidate for the general election, Bernie or Bust members are exposing a layer of the “Nader bluff:” Pro-Clinton Democrats claim the moral duty to stand together against Trump, but are not willing to vote or nominate a candidate who is actually stronger against Trump, because they selfishly want their candidate only. But in case they lose, they are already planning to use the example of Nader to blame the loss on the progressives again. So the “moral duty” only pertains to one group. It is exposed as a tool used by the party to bully progressives, nothing less, nothing more.
The other strategy floated is Hillary Clinton moving further to the right to attract Republicans who can’t accept Trump as a nominee. She is specifically looking for endorsements in the area of foreign policy. It might be a good strategy for winning the presidency but at what cost – becoming the Republican party? If the party leadership proceeds to nominate Clinton despite her new allies, this means not only a split with progressives but probably some unrest within the party itself. If Bernie wasn’t running maybe progressives would accept the story that “fascist” Trump is such a danger, and that we have to include even “moderate” Republicans in our coalition. But Bernie’s candidacy revealed that the move to the right is not necessary at all, that Democrats can win against Trump simply by nominating Sanders, and thus engaging independents, new voters and especially the young.
The party still has a chance to nominate Sanders in July. They can avoid splitting the progressive vote, they can win, they can move the country to the left. But it seems they are actually willing to risk losing to Trump as long as they don’t nominate someone with a progressive platform and a proven way to unshackle themselves from special interests. Their bluff is called. The high moral ground of “pragmatists” turned out to be a swamp. Hopefully, every progressive takes moral strength from that fact and stands strongly for their convictions.