Actor Tim Robbins introduced Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders at a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Monday, where he made an analogy that sought to belittle Hillary Clinton’s primary victories in Southern states.
At the beginning of his brief speech, the 57-year-old Shawshank Redemption star said he had come to the rally in Green Bay to address Democrats “who feel Bernie in their hearts, but are supporting Hillary with their pragmatic brains.”
The two Democratic presidential contenders are locked in a tight battle for delegates headed into Tuesday’s critical Wisconsin primary.
“We’ve all been fed a steady stream of simplistic propaganda that furthers the establishment’s narrative that Hillary’s the presumptive nominee. And if we were sheep, if we had gotten in line, there’d be no problem now,” he said.
Later in his speech, Robbins sought to downplay Clinton’s early primary successes in the South by accusing the media of blowing the significance of her victories out of proportion.
“After the Southern primaries, you had called the election — and who’s fooling who?” Robbins said.
“Winning South Carolina in the Democratic primary is about as significant as winning Guam — no Democrat is going to win in South Carolina in the general election,” he added.
Of course, based simply on population alone, South Carolina (population 4.8 million) cannot be reasonably compared with Guam (population approx. 165,000). As the Washington Post’s Phillip Bump points out, Clinton’s margin of victory in South Carolina (roughly 175,000 votes) is itself larger than the population of Guam.
But the argument that Robbins seemed to be making — that a Democrat primary victory in South Carolina means little in the course of the election or is statistically insignificant — could also be construed to carry an unfortunate racial component as well: that somehow, it isn’t true that black Southern Democrats strongly prefer Clinton to Sanders, as Bump also notes.
This is very tricky territory, of course, and I don’t want to imply that the wish to dismiss Clinton’s Southern victories is motivated by race. But there is often a sense that because Clinton dominated with black voters in the South that somehow makes those votes an anomaly. As though those victories somehow don’t represent the Democratic party. Voters in South Carolina may not look much like the folks who came out to caucus in Washington, but their votes count. Those victories are significant because they were big wins in big states — neither of which applies to Guam.
The actor’s comments also drew significant backlash on social media, with some users accusing him of belittling the importance of the state’s African-American voters:
When black people vote in large numbers, white male privilege like @TimRobbins1 wants to dismiss us, probably want to erase us entirely!
— Mr. Weeks (@MrDane1982) April 4, 2016
Utah is the most conservative state in the country but I don't see Tim Robbins comparing Bernie's win there to a win in Guam.
— Marv (@Marv_Vien) April 4, 2016
— Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) April 4, 2016
Tim Robbins calling Clinton supporters "sheep" because they don't agree with him is the ultimate KETTLE BLACK. So stupid it burns.
— Sarah Reese Jones (@srjones66) April 4, 2016
In his speech, Robbins criticized both Clinton and the Democrat National Committee, both of whom have been equal targets for Sanders’s more progressive celebrity supporters: “The DNC and the Clintons have a big problem: times have changed.”
“Bernie is not the obligatory progressive that will keep the left in line until the presumptive moderate nominee emerges,” the actor added. “Bernie is not the Democratic party insider that will bow down to the wishes of the elite of the party. We are done with that patriarchy.”
Robbins is just the latest in a long line of celebrities who have introduced the Vermont Senator at campaign stops. On Saturday, Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon introduced the candidate at another rally in Wisconsin, while actress Rosario Dawson and filmmaker Spike Lee did the same at a rally in the South Bronx last week.
Supermodel-actress Emily Ratajkowski and comedian-actress Sarah Silverman have also introduced Sanders at campaign rallies.
Recent polls in Wisconsin ahead of Tuesday’s primary show the rival Democrat contenders battling to open up a lead in the state. RealClearPolitics’s polling average over the last week has Sanders up a razor-thin 2.6 points over Clinton.
“The story tomorrow is pretty simple,” Sanders said after taking over for Robbins at Monday’s rally. “If there is a large voter turnout, I believe we win. If there is low voter turnout, we will probably lose. I think it will be a close election.”
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum.