The Bernie Sanders campaign is no longer interested in winning the Democratic presidential nomination solely through democratic means. Instead, their new plan is to undermine American democracy and reverse or overturn the popular decision of Democratic Party voters.
What happened in Clark County, Nevada last weekend is a perfect example of the new form. Having narrowly lost the state’s caucus in February, the Sanders campaign ‘stuffed the room’ at the Clark County Democratic Convention with the help of a credentials chairman named Christine Kramar, who is also accused of sharing Clinton’s proprietary information with her opponent. Some delegates allegedly received conflicting instructions about whether they needed to attend the entire event. As a result, the Sanders campaign probably managed to gain a couple of delegates in the final count from Nevada — a procedural win, to be sure, and further evidence that Sanders can be a shrewd operator. Capping this organizational performance with propaganda, USUNCUT.com — which has been a veritable Pravda for the Sanders campaign — reported that Sanders had “won” Nevada after all, supposedly reversing the decision of February caucus participants. Meanwhile, campaign manager Jeff Weaver was leading the charge to accuse Nevada Democrats of mismanagement.
Campaign manager Jeff Weaver on Clark County, Nevada Democratic Convention: pic.twitter.com/XPDR4dRSAs
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 2, 2016
Attacking from all angles, the coup provided further seed corn for the ‘momentum‘ story that the Sanders campaign is trying to sell right now. Fresh off a series of wins in caucus states, Sanders still faces enormous hurdles in big, delegate-rich states. Quite simply, Clinton has such large leads in both the popular vote and pledged delegates that Sanders would need to win the remaining states and territories by unrealistic margins just to get close.
But ‘close’ is apparently good enough for Weaver, who dismisses such empirical considerations as “funny math.”
Clearly, Weaver is operating under the assumption that neither candidate can reach the ‘magic number’ of pledged delegates to secure the nomination before the convention. When Cuomo asked him about the ‘superdelegates,’ Weaver retorted that “they don’t count until they vote and they don’t vote until we get to the convention” — meaning that he still plans to badger the Democratic Party elite into reversing the will of Democratic Party voters if necessary, completely inverting Sanders’s failed strategy to overcome the ‘party elites’ with people power.
This is not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton. What follows is an assessment of the risks that Bernie Sanders poses for the Democratic Party, and for American democracy, as his campaign increasingly tries to force his nomination on both, against their will, ‘for their own good.’ Sanders has promised a popular revolution, but now he’s just after revolution by itself, and for his own sake.
Sanders does better with lower turnout and less democracy
Remember when caucuses were supposedly rigged by the establishment to suppress democracy and hold a Hillary coronation? That was two Super Tuesdays ago. Now, caucuses are a key part of the Sanders strategy because they are easier for an insurgent to win than primaries. As in the Clark County convention, winning caucuses is just a matter of filling the room with your people. Contrary to his original theory of the election, Sanders has done better with lower turnout, while the energy and enthusiasm of his supporters has paid the most dividends in the smallest, least-democratic elections.
There are practical limits to this strategy, however. In the round of voting three weeks ago, Sanders needed to win all six states up for grabs if he was to have any hope of catching up with Clinton before the next major contest in New York. Instead, Sanders lost Arizona’s primary, then won the caucus states of Idaho, Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington — the last with just 36,000 participating out of a population of seven million, a ‘landslide’ electorate consisting of just 4% of the state population.
Having won Wyoming’s caucus yesterday, he nevertheless split the delegates evenly with Clinton. And now there are few caucuses left in the nominating schedule, awarding relatively few delegates: Guam on May 7th, the Virgin Islands on June 4th, Puerto Rico on June 5th, and North Dakota on June 7th. Even if Sanders is able to out-organize Clinton for all these events, he stands little chance of doing well in New York’s closed primary on April 19th, when Clinton is likely to wipe out all the ‘momentum’ her opponent has gained in the delegate count since the end of March. Overall, Clinton won more actual Democratic votes in Florida’s March 15th primary than Sanders got in all five states where he beat Clinton two weeks ago, and she still leads by millions of actual votes — which is not surprising, since he remains less popular overall in national polls.
In New York and Pennsylvania and Maryland, Sanders will undoubtedly use his money advantage to try a full-court press of rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts during the next few weeks in hopes of repeating his turnarounds in Michigan and Wisconsin. He will almost certainly fall short, leaving him with both fewer delegates and millions fewer votes than Clinton. But don’t expect that to deter Jeff Weaver from making more arguments about “momentum” and “electability” anyway if he still thinks he can bully his way through a nasty floor fight at the convention.
Sanders really is the Ron Paul of the left
The last time we saw a major party figure with an ‘outsider’ image, huge rallies that trend young, and unwavering small-donor support, Ron Paul was busy taking over the Republican Party from within through a stealth campaign at the state party conventions. Despite never winning a single state in 2012, Paul’s efforts netted him lots of delegates to the Republican National Convention. They ended up walking out when the party changed the rules and refused to recognize their votes.
While some Sanders supporters have taken great pains to dismiss the comparison, many of the most vocal have track records leading right back through the Paul family ‘revolution.’ Columnist H.A. Goodman, who is quite possibly the most insufferable BernieBro on the planet, originally endorsed Rand Paul for president in 2016. The two campaigns share key demographic constituencies, as the libertarians noted when they recognized the crossover potential early on and pundits favorably compared Sanders to Paul.
But the strongest point of congruence is the candidate-exclusive nature of both ‘revolutions.’ Paul did not build a lasting infrastructure; while his candidacy touted itself as a “movement,” all of its energy and momentum and moneybombs were aimed at electing exactly one man. Today, there are no ‘Paul Republicans’ — other than his son Rand, who has never been able to fully reprise his father’s cult of enthusiasm.
Similarly, Sanders has declined every chance to build a Democratic slate below the top line of the ballot. In what Jonathan Capehart calls the “ongoing hustle of the Democratic Party,” the senator from Vermont is only interested in his own candidacy. When Rachel Maddow pressed Sanders on whether he would ever help raise money for other Democrats, the ‘revolutionary’ demurred.
MADDOW: Well, obviously your priority is the nomination, but I mean you raised Secretary Clinton there. She has been fundraising both for the nomination and for the Democratic Party. At some point, do you think — do you foresee a time during this campaign when you’ll start doing that?
SANDERS: Well, we’ll see. And, I mean right now, again, our focus is on winning the nomination. Secretary Clinton has access, uh, to kinds of money, uh, that we don’t, that we’re not even interested in. So let’s take it one step at a time. And the step that we’re in right now is to win the Democratic nomination.
“We’ll see.” Sanders has repeatedly refused to be part of any revolution larger than himself. In fact, he has displayed open contempt for shows of Democratic Party solidarity. When Clinton recently raised money for down-ballot Democrats with George and Amal Clooney, Sanders was quick to call it “obscene,” but not because the cash was dirtied by corporate Hollywood hands. He just doesn’t want the competition, you see, because Sanders is a true revolutionary for the DIY generation.
You can’t look at politics as a zero-sum game, and say, “Okay…” First of all, if I win, it will almost by definition mean that there will be a very large voter turnout. That’s what I believe. If there is a very large voter turnout, I think the odds are pretty strong Democrats will regain control of the Senate, do better in the House. Can they win the House? I don’t know. But they will do better.
Sanders proposes to flip both houses to the Democrats himself by producing a wave election solely on the strength of his own curmudgeonly charm. We got a preview of how this actually works out in Wisconsin, where both Democrats gave verbal support to JoAnne Kloppenburg, who nevertheless lost her state Supreme Court race to Scott Walker’s appointee, Rebecca ‘queers deserve to get AIDS‘ Bradley, thanks at least in part to Sanders voters who didn’t bother to vote on the rest of the ballot.
But if his first plan for Capitol Hill domination doesn’t work (and it clearly isn’t), then as president Sanders promises to exercise his Green Lantern powers of bully pulpit persuasion, issue executive orders, and hold a rally on the National Mall until the GOP cries uncle in submission to his agenda. This revolution will be individualized!
The Sanders campaign is a politician’s unique brand masquerading as a political movement.
The shortcomings of a one man show
Regardless of what you think of Tim Robbins for supporting Ralph Nader‘s disastrous 2000 presidential bid, or for giving money to Michele Bachmann, or for Howard the Duck, his line that South Carolina Democrats don’t matter was bad politics.
Robbins’s point of comparison — the object by which he measures his low esteem for the red states that don’t vote for his candidate — is the island of Guam, which still has yet to vote. Guamanians will pick seven of twelve delegates to represent their territory. A campaign which prides itself on insurgency, fighting for every last scratch, ought to be trying to win over a majority of Democrats on Guam rather than dismissing them out of arrogance.
Whether it’s Susan Sarandon expressing the privilege of rich white people who would be (at least temporarily) immune to the consequences of a Ted Cruz or Donald Trump presidency, or Rosario Dawson maligning the integrity of legendary civil rights icons, or Killer Mike borrowing a quip about politics and uteruses, the Sanders campaign seems unable to put a surrogate forward who doesn’t stumble right into a political pratfall. From the top on down, everyone is very good at criticizing President Obama and demonizing Clinton as “the establishment,” but it’s not clear at all that the Sanders campaign could successfully transition to being the establishment.
Just as he lacks a bench on the campaign trail, Sanders has no deep well of policy advice. As gaffe-prone as he seems to be in his dotage, Bill Clinton remains a good resource and networking partner. Say what you like about Henry Kissinger (I will), but the old beast has unique knowledge and experience in international relations, and he’s just one of many, many people that Hillary can call upon for advice. Maybe you don’t like either of them, or perhaps you don’t care for their past deeds, but no one can deny they would both be available to her as president — along with hundreds of other experienced people from all walks of government and commerce and society around the world.
We got a preview of where the Sanders policy vacuum leads in the New York Daily News interview with Sanders that everyone was talking about last week. Asked whether President Obama’s drone policy is the right one, he didn’t know the answer:
What I do know is that drones are a modern weapon. When used effectively, when taking out ISIS or terrorist leaders, that’s pretty impressive. When bombing wedding parties of innocent people and killing dozens of them, that is, needless to say, not effective and enormously counterproductive. So whatever the mechanism, whoever is in control of that policy, it has to be refined so that we are killing the people we want to kill and not innocent collateral damage.
Sanders will be happy to hold the trigger end of the ‘kill chain’ as long as events at the business end remain plausibly deniable. Courage! Revolution!
Mind you, the US drone program is constantly refining its operations to reduce collateral damage (after all, that’s the whole point of switching from jets carrying large, high explosive bombs to drones firing small missiles), so I confidently predict that President Sanders will quickly learn to depend on this ‘establishment’ entity for information and operations, then throw up a wall of equivocation the first time a mission goes south. As I keep saying, President Sanders will not bring world peace in our time, even if random birds keep landing on his lectern. Where an elected executive’s incoming policy is about an inch deep, they often end up in deep capture to the system rather than transforming it dramatically.
Fittingly, Sanders met with the editorial board of the New York Daily News on April Fools’ Day. Asked under what authority he would fulfill his stump speech promise of breaking up all the financial giants in the first year of his administration, Sanders lacked a sure legal footing on the topic.
Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.
Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?
Sanders: Well, I don’t know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.
Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, “Now you must do X, Y and Z?”
Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.
Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?
Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do.
Confused? So was Sanders. Asked about a major platform plank that he has flogged since the beginning of the campaign, the Senator was unable to explain its implementation; instead, he pivoted back to his talking points, avoiding or minimizing the petty details.
During the interview, he seemed completely unaware that ‘too big to fail’ insurance giants MetLife and AIG are in fact being forced to restructure under Frank-Dodd, the Obama-era law he has until now attacked as insufficient to reign in Wall Street. He certainly didn’t say how he would do anything different with either company.
The interviewers had to press Sanders on the crux of their questions: what laws would he actually cite in order to prosecute bankers? By what process would banks be judged ‘too big to fail’? What would he do about the tens of thousands of employees and billions in assets that would be affected by his forced breakups?
Daily News: Well, it does depend on how you do it, I believe. And, I’m a little bit confused because just a few minutes ago you said the U.S. President would have authority to order…
Sanders: No, I did not say we would order. I did not say that we would order. The President is not a dictator.
Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I’m not quite…
Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.
Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?
Sanders: It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.
“It’s something I have not studied.” Hillary Clinton’s criticism that Sanders was “unprepared” for this interview is self-evidently true — in his own words.
Intellectually incurious about anything outside the narrow range of his Marxian fable, which remains focused on income inequality to the point of ignoring other forms of inequality, Sanders doesn’t do homework the way Poppy Bush doesn’t do broccoli. Sure, he could also bring on advisers who know about this stuff, but the Senator is not known for seeking out that kind of help, right?
So instead of seeming presidential, Sanders “doesn’t know the answer” to ISIS, “hasn’t thought about” what he would do with captured terrorists, and doesn’t think he’s “qualified to make decisions” in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
And so it goes with the entire Sanders campaign. He would blithely toss aside decades of Democratic health care achievements and replace them with an eight-page outline for a single-payer plan using numbers that don’t add up on a model that even Vermont found too expensive. He would also like every student to enjoy “free college,” but that is not how his plan will work out in execution. To make these dreams possible, Sanders would end up raising taxes on poor and middle income Americans, not just the Koch brothers. (Full disclosure: I am not rich, but my taxes would go up almost $1,000 under Sanders’s plan, with zero net increase in benefits.)
His national security policy would end up a schizophrenic mess, torn between doing what is necessary (drone strikes) and acknowledging what is politically correct (Robbins and Sarandon loathe drones). In all likelihood, his fumbling attempts to restructure the financial sector will get rebuffed by agencies and courts alike, producing a war with the federal bureaucracy that will play out in leaks and congressional committees. If you are a progressive who found the Obama administration disappointing, just wait until the Sanders presidency gets into the nuts and bolts of failing at everything while his ideological appointees create scandals of embarrassment out of ignorance and arrogance.
Sanders keeps insisting that a groundswell of support from new voters will justify his candidacy, and while he’s done well, that massive surge has not materialized. Instead, as his potential path to the nomination has narrowed, Sanders’s tone has turned shades darker. His campaign is projecting its own behavior on Clinton in a final, grasping attempt to delegitimize her candidacy.
The fine art of negation
Reacting to her opponent’s NYDN interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday, Clinton called him “unprepared” — which, again, is self-evidently true in his own words — but refused Joe Scarborough’s bait three times, never once agreeing that Sanders was “unqualified” to be president. Nevertheless, a Washington Post headline writer made it seem as if she had made the remark herself, and that evening the Senator began firing back at the word Clinton had never actually said, contrarily accusing her of being “unqualified” because he doesn’t like where she got her campaign money.
I don’t believe that she is qualified if she is, if she is, through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds. I don’t think you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC.
By these standards, Sanders might also consider Barack Obama “unqualified” to be president; and perhaps he actually does, because the senator has always been aloof of the president. He recently criticized Obama for a “leadership gap,” promising once again to bring “millions and millions of people into the political process in a way that does not exist right now” — and never will exist, at least according to the election data so far. By implication, everything that has gone wrong for the last eight years is Obama’s fault.
Popular on the left, this theory of the Obama presidency explains progressive disappointment in his tenure as a character flaw; he has supposedly failed to twist arms, argue himself blue, and speechify enough to achieve the democratic socialist worker’s paradise of their dreams. Obama, they say, has sold out to his donors by not prosecuting bankers under (nonexistent) laws, failing to abolish the fossil fuel industry altogether, etc. In recent weeks, the Sanders campaign has increasingly contrasted its quixotic hopes against these failed progressive dreams for the Obama presidency, promising to fulfill them. Sanders also promises to win the state of New York, but I’m not holding my breath for either outcome.
As women are the most oppressed class of person on Earth, a woman becoming President of the United States is at least as revolutionary as America electing its first Jewish president. Hillary Clinton began as an outsider, too, but took a different path than Bernie Sanders did, embracing the Democratic Party to build a winning election infrastructure. Rather than reject the political money game with purist objections, Clinton has used it the same way Barack Obama did — and worse, she has succeeded in beating Sanders so far despite his money advantages.
When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him about the increasingly aggressive rhetoric between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, Weaver averred that his campaign was prepared to play hardball. He then sounded a warning to the former secretary of State and her supporters, suggesting that they not get too critical of Sanders or his supporters. “Don’t destroy the Democratic Party to satisfy the secretary’s ambitions to become president of the United States,” Weaver said.
It was a small comment, in every sense. A throwaway bit of nastiness coming from a campaign manager in the late stages of a long and hotly contested primary battle. But the line, which overtly cast Clinton’s political ambition as a destructive force and framed her famous drive and tenacity as unappealing, malevolent traits, played on long-standing assumptions about how ambition — a quality that is required for powerful men and admired in them — looks far less attractive on their female counterparts, and especially on their female competitors.
Get that? Comic book store owner Jeff Weaver threatens to blow up the Democratic Party one day, then expresses concern for its future in his very next TV interview. Nice political party you have there, it would be a shame if something happened to it! Did I mention that she’s an ambitious female? Do you know that she is a witless tool of evil capitalists? That she is solely responsible for the Islamic State?
Weaver is quite adept at retconning, the comic industry term for revisions to the official history and canon of a storyline. In order to negate the inconvenient first half of the Democratic nomination season — the half during which his candidate fell so far behind in votes and delegates — Weaver has proposed that Sanders simply wasn’t trying tor realz in all of those states, but now he’s really serious, peoples!
Notably, Sanders has attempted to walk back his disastrous “qualified” remarks after Weaver doubled-down on them. Appearing with Charlie Rose on CBS, Sanders explained that Clinton is “qualified,” after all, confirmed that he will still support her if she is the nominee, and even admitted she wasn’t personally responsible for the Bush invasion of Iraq — all while backhandedly trying to blame Clinton for the entire dust-up over something she never said.
Personally, my patience with the Sanders campaign is almost exhausted. Any sense of inspiration from his oratory has largely evaporated. I am quite prepared for this primary season to end soon, and as I look at each of the big states to come, I find myself hoping that Clinton crushes in such strength as to lock up the nomination and finish him off. The more paranoid and unyielding and insane the online echo chambers inspired by the Sanders campaign become, the less I am inclined to vote for him, even if he does manage to win the Democratic Party nomination.
I do not relish having to make such a choice, but just as Susan Sarandon is within her rights to refuse to vote for Clinton in November, come what may, I reserve the same right to not vote for a person who is self-evidently unprepared to be the president of the United States, let alone the leader of the Democratic Party. In that sense, I am actually less forgiving than Hillary Clinton.