Bye-Bye, Bernie: Super Tuesday Begins the End of an Insurgency

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) greets supporters after winning the Vermont primary on Super Tuesday on March 1, 2016 in Essex Junction, Vermont.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Bernie Sanders insurgency ground to a halt on Super Tuesday, to the surprise of no one except Bernie Sanders voters, who don’t understand how their guy can draw huge crowds of screaming fans, and record-breaking donations from an army of small donors, but still lose to a corrupt mediocrity that her own voters don’t trust.

One of the lingering questions of the 2016 election is whether Bernie’s fans take his drubbing badly enough to do something about it.

The Democrat race has none of the multi-candidate factional intrigues of the Republican contest, so it seems kind of sad for Sanders die-hards to point at the little handful of delegates he’s accumulated. It’s over, kids. If it’s any consolation, he never had a chance, and he never really wanted one.

That’s why he let Clinton coast on the issues he could have really hurt her with, especially the trust issue and her email scandal. Sanders ran to make a statement, and he knew damn well he could never give his Party’s machine the kind of trouble Donald Trump is making for the dissolute GOP Establishment.

The reason is that for all the Occupy Wall Street caterwauling of social-media-savvy young people who enjoy showing up for big rallies, Democrats don’t have anything like the current Republican crisis of faith in their party.  Most Democrat constituencies and special interests have been getting what they want. Obama’s crony capitalism is generally a good deal for the cronies, who are – contrary to popular mythology – mostly either Democrat or bipartisan donors. The health insurance guys are getting nervous, but they don’t dare complain about it in public.

Young people enraptured by Barack Obama in two elections, and the younger cohort coming along behind them, were very slow to realize they’re getting screwed by Democrat redistributionist policies and no-growth economics… and even slower to realize their actual political clout is far smaller than their social-media footprint would suggest.

Clinton was already sweeping away the remains of the Sanders insurgency during her Super Tuesday speech, making a bid to reunite the Party as he fades into the rear-view mirror. Sanders managed to change her campaign, obliging her to adopt more left-wing populist rhetoric, but she knows he can’t beat her now. Sanders told his supporters to ignore the defeats and soldier on, but by the time any of those Brigadoon-like “favorable Northern states” come into play, Clinton’s narrative of inevitability will be insurmountable.  

Clinton isn’t the only one who thinks it’s over. “He didn’t start off, in my view, thinking he was going to be the Democratic nominee,” opined former Obama aide David Axelrod on CNN, as quoted at Politico. Axelrod said Sanders was only in the race to “drive issues,” promising “he has done that, and he will continue to do that.”

Funny, the Sanders voters don’t seem to think they were donating their time and money to a vanity candidacy solely intended to move Hillary Clinton left on a couple of issues.  A lot of Sanders supporters claim to loathe Clinton. Are they going to fall into line and stop grumbling about her $300,000 speeches to Big Money interests because she pays them a little lip service, and maybe gives Bernie a nice pat on the head when he finally surrenders?

Probably, yeah.  

RealClearPolitics summed up Sanders’ campaign on the cusp of Super Tuesday:

Sanders said he wants to reclaim some of the momentum he experienced with his decisive victory in New Hampshire and inspire higher turnout for his White House bid, especially among younger voters who flock to his rallies but are less reliable when it comes to casting ballots for the Democratic socialist. Sanders, aware that polls have measured large leads for Clinton in the South, said his focus this week is Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma and his home state.

Stumping in Minnesota, for example, Sanders embraced President Obama’s record of accomplishments, but he drew sharp lines of contrast with Obama’s former Cabinet colleague when it came to Clinton’s Senate vote to authorize the war in Iraq, her record of support for free trade pacts, her paid speeches to financial and corporate titans, and her embrace of super PACs and wealthy donors.

The bit about flocking to his rallies but not casting votes would make a fitting epitaph for the Sanders insurgency.  

Look at his “sharp lines of contrast” with Clinton: even die-hard Democrats have got to be tired of hearing about Iraq, they’re not generally inclined to vote against Obama’s free-trade pact (except for the unions, which long ago shrugged and endorsed Clinton anyway), and as for all that Clinton cash… well, they care about that precisely as much as they care about Leonardo diCaprio burning a zillion tons of carbon to sail his yacht to a global-warming conference. Democrat voters are great believers in wealth and privilege for super people with the Right Ideas.

Politico lays out Sanders’ unlikely strategy for victory after a not-so-super Tuesday:

After her 48-point blowout in South Carolina on Saturday, polls and pundits predict a Clinton rout in states with large African-American populations such as Texas and Alabama. But she’s also hoping for wins — or close calls — in more comfortable Sanders territory — like Minnesota and Massachusetts — which would allow her to turn the screws on the Vermont independent and make the case that he’s only hurting the party’s chances in the general election chances by staying in the race.

Sanders’ goal is to emerge from Super Tuesday with a viable comeback path. His team has sketched a strategy that involves running up margins in the predominantly white states that have responded better to his message, starting with his home state of Vermont. Preventing a Clinton runaway in the delegate count would help him portray the day as a draw and a potential springboard into friendlier territory — Nebraska, Kansas and Maine, which are next on the calendar.

Sanders won his home state, plus Colorado, Minnesota, and Oklahoma, but lost Massachusetts to Clinton – a win he really needed, and which polls suggested could have been within his grasp. Clinton’s big wins in the big states combine with those super-delegate thumbs on the scale to make Sanders’ path to victory very difficult to see.

He’s still on the right side of the enthusiasm gap, no doubt about it. The New York Times described some gloomy Sanders supporters trudging over to Camp Clinton, with one of them offhandedly describing her as “the other Democrat.”  

The Times conjured an air of “resignation,” as Sanders voters wrap up an enjoyable “flirtation” with his “dreamy revolution” and restore the “air of inevitability” to Clinton. Aside from the sheer weight of “delegate math,” the argument bringing Sanders kids home to The Other Democrat was “fear of a Trump presidency.” Much as Trump voters tend to think he’s the candidate tough and scrappy enough to tackle Clinton and her media, Sanders supporters are drifting back to Clinton because they think she’s better positioned to battle Trump.

The X-factor is that Sanders supporters might find Trump’s critique of the system much more compatible with their views than Clinton’s platform. Trump certainly seems to think he has a shot at Democrat voters, and he’s surely going to make a pitch for the Sanders crowd during the general election, hitting Clinton on her corruption, dishonesty, and ineptitude far harder than Sanders ever did.  

The Democrat establishment thinks it can hold those voters in its orbit by reminding them Trump is the Devil, and letting Sanders exit gracefully enough to prevent his supporters from thinking victory was stolen from him – a risk that should diminish if Clinton keeps racking up big wins, putting the memories of Iowa shenanigans and Bernie’s big day in New Hampshire far behind.

The Democrat establishment is probably right. Sanders lost because his support was enthusiastic, but not serious.


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