Wednesday, June 8, 2016

So Much for Enchiladas


In the end, it wasn't even close. California, the state Bernie Sanders was pinning all his hopes on - the whole enchilada, as he called it - ended up being the final nail in his coffin. He didn't just lose, he got crushed. Ironically, the Golden State was a microcosm of his whole campaign: an early, insurmountable deficit that could never be made up. From the moment the polls closed, Sanders was trailing. With 30 percent of the vote in, Hillary Clinton was ahead by almost 400 thousand votes. For the rest of the night the two candidates ostensibly traded baskets, to use a basketball euphemism. When the final results were tallied, Clinton had 1,940,580 votes to Sanders' 1,502,043.

Combined with a staggering loss in New Jersey and two close but no cigar defeats in New Mexico and South Dakota, Bernie had a very rough night. Far from ending his campaign with enough momentum to make his case to the Super Delegates that he should be the Party's nominee, it was Clinton who finished strong. His two wins were states with a predominately white populace, Montana and North Dakota, the latter being a caucus. Fitting if bittersweet.

So now what? Well, for starters, Sanders will meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday. I'm guessing Obama will try to get him to concede before he officially endorses Hillary. I'd love to be a fly on that wall. To add insult to injury, Reuters is reporting that Elizabeth Warren will endorse Clinton, perhaps as soon as next week. Whether he wants to admit it or not, this race is over. He not only has no path to the nomination, if he chooses to go to Philadelphia and force a contested convention, he will do so without any of his surrogates and with the full weight of the Democratic Party against him. He'll also have the dubious distinction of being the next Ralph Nader.

If I were a betting man, I'd say he cries uncle right after the D.C. primary next Tuesday. That'll allow him to say he gave all his voters the chance to have their votes count, which is fair. Hillary waited till the last primary before she hung it up in '08. Another week won't kill anybody. It'll also give him enough time to force more concessions from the DNC, as if getting five seats on the platform committee wasn't good enough.

So, what went wrong for the Vermont senator? Well, first off, let's dispense with this notion that his supporters keep repeating. Nobody stole the nomination from him. Hillary simply got more votes and won more states. As strange as it might seem for them to hear, that's how elections are won. And, from mid-March on, this contest wasn't even close. Hillary was in the driver's seat pretty much after that first Super Tuesday. She not only won more states, she won the states with the largest and most diverse populations. After D.C. votes next Tuesday, she'll finish with 3.7 million more votes and 370 more pledged delegates than Sanders. Those aren't primary election numbers; they're general election numbers.

As I see it, there were basically two big mistakes the Sanders campaign made that led directly to their demise. The first was poor strategy. Sanders concentrated way too much on securing votes from states with demographics that were already sympathetic to him, while not paying nearly enough attention to the states that more closely resembled the actual party he was running in. This further widened the gap between him and African Americans and Hispanics. And when they did visit states like South Carolina and Georgia, they never developed a message that resonated with those voters. More often than not they came across as condescending. It also didn't help matters any that Sanders hailed from one of the whitest states in the nation.

Then there was the issue of where to spend their resources. One of the pitfalls of having a lot of contributors to your campaign is that it gives you the impression you can spread the graft around everywhere - a sort of 50-state strategy, if you will. But that's actually not how primaries are won. In 2008, the Obama campaign knew there were states they were not going to be competitive in, like New York. So they never campaigned there. The Sanders campaign never figured that out and it proved costly.

A case in point came after Sanders' very impressive victory in Wisconsin. He had won eight states in a row and was on a roll. He was close to making the primary season a real contest. That was when his campaign made a critical error. They headed straight to New York and ran ads in a very expensive TV market trying to win the state. But realistically speaking, Sanders never had a chance at beating Hillary in her home state, where she had twice been elected to the Senate. And, worse, everyone knew it.

What they should've done is gone straight to Pennsylvania, a state that, sans Philadelphia, has an electorate that was more in tune with the message he was spreading. Had I been his manager, I would've shuttled back and forth between Scranton and Pittsburgh, with a rally or two at Penn State. I also would've paid a few visits to northwestern Maryland. So Hillary would've won New York by a couple points more. Who cares? Staying in Pa., would've netted them more delegates out of the Keystone state, maybe even in Maryland. They still would've lost both, but the margins would've been a lot smaller.

The Sanders team never understood that it was about the number of delegates they picked up, not the number of states they won. Obama got his clocked cleaned by Hillary in many states, but he won the most delegates because his team knew how to manage their resources better.

But the biggest mistake the Sanders campaign made was the platform they were running on. Basically, Sanders was one-trick pony. His whole campaign theme came down to this: the system is rigged and corrupt, and only I can fix it. It was a message that resonated, not surprisingly, with younger voters, but fell on deaf ears with many older ones. While his rallies were overflowing with passionate young people, many of those young people proved to be very unreliable at the polls.

For the last three presidential elections we've heard a lot about the youth vote. I still remember the Kerry campaign boasting how they were going to defeat Bush in '04 with it. John Kerry is still waiting for them to show up.  Now Bernie Sanders can add his name to the list of candidates jilted at the alter.

But it would be unfair to chalk up Sanders' defeat to a lack of follow through of 18 to 29 year olds. The fact is the Democratic Party is not the Republican Party. There simply wasn't the appetite among Democrats for a populist movement that there was among Republicans. Donald Trump ran away with the GOP nomination; the best Bernie Sanders could do was a distant second place finish.

Maybe that will change. No doubt the seeds Sanders has planted will begin to take root. Who knows, maybe by 2024, someone will pick up where Sanders left off and progressives will finally have their revolution. But it won't come in 2016.

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