I’m actually in the process of crafting a longer essay on how I believe the Bernie Sanders movement can continue after the nominating process is over, but new information cluttered my morning newsfeed, so here we are.
Multiple sources reported yesterday that Bernie Sanders is planning on a convention fight in Philadelphia. That’s what he told the National Press Club in Washington on Sunday. Here are few highlights from his remarks:
“It is virtually impossible for Hillary Clinton to reach a majority of convention delegates by June 14, which is the last day a primary will be held, with pledged delegates alone. She will need superdelegates to take her over the top at the convention in Philadelphia.”
“In other words the convention will be a contested contest.”
“I would hope very much that the superdelegates from those states where we have won with big margins respect the wishes of the people of those states.”
“Therefore, it is incumbent on every superdelegate to take a hard and objective look at which candidate stands the better chance of defeating Donald Trump and other Republicans.”
This argument first surfaced after Clinton’s four out of five state win last Tuesday. On MSNBC, campaign manager Jeff Weaver laid out this strategy even as other Sanders surrogates were talking about the campaign winding down. At the time, I dismissed most of this talk as post-loss bluster.
And I still do.
Here’s the truth: Bernie Sanders has absolutely no intention of carrying out this threat.
So, what’s really happening here?
A couple of things. First, a lot of people have donated to Senator Sanders’ campaign. Packing up and giving in now would be a slap in the face to every person that’s forked over their hard earned money to support him.
Second, the nominating process isn’t over yet. Regardless of the fact that it’s a statistical impossibility for Sanders to defeat Clinton at this point, it’s imperative to let the primary play out until the last poll closes. Thousands of people in the remaining states have waited months to cast a ballot for Bernie, and to deny them that right would demoralize his supporters.
Finally, and this is the most important reason, it’s all about money. Sanders is looking to change the Democratic Party. In order to do that, he needs lots and lots of money to finance his expenses until July, in order to win enough delegates to shape the party’s platform for November. Fundraising numbers already look difficult if April is any measure. Donations fell by $19 million, and Clinton outpaced Sanders fundraising by about $10 million dollars. Add to that a purge of paid staffers, and it’s clear that the campaign is trying to save money.
The best way to keep the money train rolling is by letting your supporters believe you still have a chance.
Is it ethical?
I don’t know. I guess if you contributed to his campaign, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Now, why won’t Bernie carry out his threat to contest the convention? Well, let’s start with the fact that his strategy is based on a premise that even his supporters have characterized as unfair. Imagine the outrage if Clinton won the popular vote, the pledged delegate count, and more states than Sanders, but superdelegates decided to name him the nominee. To thwart the “will of the people,” when it favors your candidate would be an indefensible hypocrisy that undermines the unique nature of the Sanders movement.
I suspect Sanders knows this, and it’s probably tearing him up inside.
If not, it should be.
Yet he’s still pushing the idea that General Election polls have him winning by more points. What he leaves out is the fact that Clinton still polls ahead of the Republican frontrunners in the same polls. Does Sanders poll better by more points? Sure, but his numbers in comparison to Clinton are usually within the margin of error, and Sanders’ lack of name recognition and insulation from GOP attacks negates his advantages. We really don’t know how Sanders will do in a General Election, and it probably won’t matter.
Also, the Sanders strategy to flip superdelegates won’t work. I won’t get bogged down in the numbers on how all this plays out mathematically, but if you’re interested, you can read Phillip Bump’s piece in the Washington Post written earlier today.
Nevertheless, the real reason I know Sanders is lying when he says he’s planning on a contested convention in July is because it’s political suicide. Nothing would end the senator’s long political career quicker than turning the Democratic National Convention into a circus sideshow based on his bruised ego and failed candidacy.
Superdelegate support for Clinton will only solidify by primary’s end. The insurmountable lead she amassed so far will only grow. For Sanders to jam a wrench in the convention would only ensure that no Democrat in Congress ever works with him again. Throw into that the possibility of an unfavorable presidency, and it just doesn’t make sense.
This is political posturing, plain and simple. Sanders is pretending to spoil for a fight he has no intention of starting. He’s doing it to keep his supporters motivated and to keep the money flowing. I think this is irresponsible. Eventually, he’s going to have to let people down, and the longer he waits, the harder it will be for his supporters to rally around the Democratic nominee.
If Sanders were smart, he’d level with his supporters. I think the vast majority would understand. He could say, “Look. This is where we are, this is where we want to go, and the best way to get there is by shifting our attention to the future of our movement. We don’t have to give up the war, but this battle, is lost. Let’s finish with a modicum of dignity and self-respect.”
That’s what Bernie Sanders should be saying right now, because it’s the truth, and it’s what his supporters need to hear.