Monday, May 23, 2016

Politix Update: Feelin' The Bern' Becomes Scorched Earth As Sanders Flips Out

I have praised Bernie Sander from the outset of his improbable bid for the presidential nomination. And meant what I said.  But the praise ends here and now, and for good reason. 
Sanders has brought a vitality, fresh thinking and wealth of good ideas to the race that have been, for openers, reminders of how stale the Democratic brand has become despite Barack Obama. Sanders has pushed Hillary Clinton to the left on issues that matter to me. But that was then and now is now, and while Sanders stands no chance of getting the nomination, he has turned Feel the Bern' into scorched earth with the disingenuous argument that even though Clinton will end up with more delegates, the will of his voters count more than the majority of voters.  This destructive intransigence serves no purpose other than stroking his massive ego -- and playing the role of Donald Trump's "useful idiot," as Dick Polman well puts it -- while delaying the inevitable. 
Hardcore Sanders backers, even if many of them were too young to vote in 2008, will point to Clinton's long goodbye that year in her unsuccessful attempt to overtake a young upstart by the name of Obama in arguing that Sanders should stay in the race all the way through to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.   
I wrote on June 8, 2008:
"Like radio waves reaching earth from some cosmic calamity millennia ago, the yarbling of Hillary Clinton sycophants who believe that her candidacy was gang banged into extinction by the mainstream media, right-wing bloggers and Barack Obama acolytes can be faintly heard, although it is so much background noise as Clinton herself and practically everyone else who is determined to take back America link arms and March toward November. 
"Has it only been five days since Clinton's extraordinarily gracious concession speech? It seems like light years in this corner of the universe where the political landscape changes by the news cycle, and yet some diehards just can't seem to face up to the reality that the fancy evening gowns they bought so they could dance the night away with Bill and Hill at her inaugural balls will have to be returned."
The difference this year, of course, is that Sanders is digging in and not letting go, although Sahil Kapur reports that in addition to having a massive ego, Sanders is two-faced and is quietly telling Senate colleagues that he understands the stakes and has no intention of damaging Democratic prospects in the fall.  
Be that as it may, in 2008 Clinton promised to run only to the last primary to give every Democrat a chance to vote, while Sanders vows to take his crusade to the convention despite the mathematical impossibility of catching up to Clinton in pledged delegates. 
"We are in this until the last ballot is counted . . . and then we're going to take the fight to Philadelphia," he promised last week. 
Curiously, Sander's only hope of winning the nomination  -- and it is an extraordinarily slim one -- is to flip enough superdelegates.  Yes, the very same superdelegates  he declared to be "unfair" as his campaign has shifted from criticizing Clinton to criticizing the Democratic Party.  I happen to agree with him that superdelegates are deck stackers for a party's anointed best hope (Clinton in this case and Jeb Bush in the case of Republicans going into the primaries back in January), but Sanders' hypocrisy is a little . . . uh, odiferous, don't you think? 
As if that's not bad enough, Sanders further states that if his ring isn't kissed by the party elites, that's evidence of corruption.  Does that somehow make corrupt the 13 million people who have voted for Clinton in open primaries as opposed to the 10 million who have voted for him?  (Sanders told CNN on Sunday that he would replace DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz if elected president, and that would be a capital idea under any circumstances.) 
"The Democratic Party has a choice," he said after the kerfuffle over party caucus rules in Nevada earlier this month.  "It can open the doors and welcome into the party those who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change . . . or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure." 
As I recall, the party did open its doors in 2008, especially after Obama improbably outran Clinton in the primaries and clinched the nomination.  The party's rules have not changed since then despite what Sanders may think and say.  
It is "either" or "or" for Sanders, no middle ground tolerated.  That is deeply troubling for a man who has been in the game for 35 fricking years but suddenly decides only the rules he agrees with matter, kind of like a childhood pal who demanded his playmates play card and board games by his rules when we hung out at his house.   
But where Sanders really jumps the shark is deriding the Democratic Party as a party of "limited participation and limited energy."  Besides dismissing predominately black Southern Democrats, which he has done over and over -- and nowhere is Sanders weaker than when it comes to race -- he conveniently overlooks the very coalition that elected and re-elected Obama, will elect Clinton in November and, truth be told, helped make possible the progressive movement that he embraces.   
My second biggest problem with Sanders beyond his tone-deafness on race is that after a 35-year career, his base remains astoundingly narrow and his claims that he would successfully fight the entrenched power of Washington because Americans of all stripes have his back are pure fantasy. 
I adored left-handed pitching legend Warren Spahn of the Boston and Milwaukee Braves as a child even thought I was a Phillies diehard, and it broke my heart when he didn't realize it was time to go and threatened his legacy by sticking around too long.  No matter how you look at it, 2016 has been an annus mirabilis for Bernie Sanders.   
So sure, stick around until after the California primary on June 7, but then it will be time to go before it becomes glaringly obvious that you've become Donald Trump's new best friend. 
I like to say that public opinion polls are "snapshots in time," and that is especially true when you consider what the time is.  (Does anyone know what time it is?)  In that context, polls showing Bernie Sanders doing better in head-to-head match-ups with Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton and polls showing Trump beating Clinton bear special scrutiny.   
Having more than a passing acquaintance with polling over the years, as in having worked with some of the best in the business over a long newspaper career, I can make the following observations with some confidence, and hopefully not too much hubris:
* Head-to-head polls are ephemeral in May and won't mean much until after the party nominating conventions in July.   
* Having said that, the candidate leading in Gallup's pre-convention head-to-head poll has gone on to win the presidency in 13 out of the last 16 elections.
* Polls showing Sanders doing better against The Donald than Clinton are reflective of both candidates' extraordinarily huge negatives. 
* Having said that, and as I noted the other day, Clinton is not particularly trusted by many voters whereas Trump is feared, so you can cue the landslide music with some confidence. 
* All of the relatively few polls showing Trump beating Clinton are classic outliers, which is to say deeply flawed in their methodology. 
There's an old saying that "Democrats fall in love and Republicans fall in line."  That still holds true in 2016.

© 2015-2016 SHAUN D. MULLEN.



Alan Muller said...

What a crock. Could be a News Journal editorial......

Joe Gandelman said...

GREAT column. I wish I could be as confident as you are about Hillary Clinton's race against Trump. Unlike when you and I were reporters and getting the facts and a story were vital, it's now about "the get" for the media and throwing out red meat on social media.

Shaun Mullen said...


Have spent a lot of time lately interviewing environmentalists and public advocates for a forthcoming story. I am struck by how they all try to be consensus builders and try to be respectful of diverging opinions. As I have said several times before, you severely limit your effectiveness by choosing to be a hothead. That's unfortunate, because little Delaware doesn't need big egos when it comes to protecting its fragile environment.