Tuesday, January 19, 2016
With just a couple of weeks to go, it's absolutely clear that Hillary Clinton, after years of cultivating a resume so impressive you sort of wonder if she was president at some point and no one told us, is down for the count. Clinton's national numbers are still wildly impressive, showing her up by as many as 25-points over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but in the states that count (and what does it say about our country that the two states that count matter more than the other 48...but I digress and have already discussed that topic previously) Clinton is losing in New Hampshire and approaching a loss in Iowa. If this feels familiar, it's because she had the same thing happen eight years ago when Barack Obama and John Edwards, after a season where she appeared inevitable, came in and pushed her into the bronze slot in Iowa and then she barely won New Hampshire. Then Senator Clinton never recovered, and despite having one of the closest primaries in modern history, she ended up losing to an upstart despite appearing on paper as the stronger candidate.
That's happening again, but it's happening in a way that makes me go "hmm" and wonder how much difference there is between the wackiness of the GOP primary and the Democrats themselves. The Republicans have been continually chided for going for candidates that have party in mind first, and pragmatism coming after them, with Donald Trump and Ted Cruz frequently trumping Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush despite the latter two's stronger ability to perform against a Democrat in a general election. The Democrats for much of the season have risen above such things. After all, despite some polling that says otherwise, most common wisdom shows that Clinton, a moderate with a progressive streak, is going to outperform in November versus a Vermont Socialist in his seventies. And yet Bernie Sanders is beating Hillary Clinton in the first two states, and making inroads across the country against the former First Lady.
In many ways it feels like, when you observe Sanders supporters on social media (and I follow a lot of them if my Twitter feed is to be believed), they are a lot like the Pauline Kael supporters of old, where they don't know anyone who could possibly support Trump (to their credit, I personally don't know anyone who supports Trump as well, but I'm smart enough to know that they exist and are probably relatives of mine), and think of the race as simply between Sanders and Clinton. The problem with this thinking is twofold. For starters, it's not between these two-it's actually between Trump, Cruz, or Rubio, and despite Democrats' low opinions of these men, one of them is about to get 47% of the country's votes, and only needs to figure out a way to convince the remaining 3% to get behind them (and that remaining 3% voted for George W. Bush twice, so don't think it can't be done). Secondly, Democrats have had the White House for eight years-anything that President Obama did in office that people disagree with, they are going to blame him for, and the stuff he did in office that people like is going to matter less because no one wants to dwell on the past in a campaign for fear of being branded too backwards-thinking. The Democrats start, on-paper, with a solid disadvantage with the electorate at large, and in many ways the Democrats will need a couple of breaks (such as a Trump or Cruz getting the nomination) to score a third term in the White House. Giving the baton to Sanders, who is clearly resonating with the party but won't have the same sort of ability to transfer votes in a general election, is the wrong decision there.
Sanders supporters may dismiss such logical reasoning with claims that we need a change, and I won't disagree with such comments. There are certain things that I truly believe will probably be more likely to change under Sanders (such as financial regulations on Wall Street and the banking industry), but you have to get him across the finish line to accomplish such things, and with Sanders, who will totally be schooled on foreign policy and really on appealing at all to moderates, it can't be done. And the reality is that Hillary Clinton is kind of boxed into a corner on financial issues at this point-it's hard to imagine a President Clinton not being forced to go after Wall Street considering Sanders will still be in office in her first term with a hugely expanded platform, and that the threat of Elizabeth Warren primarying her in 2020 will hang over any actions she takes that don't jive with the Massachusetts senator. To sacrifice our ability in the general election just because one person might be more angry about an issue is not smart, and in many ways mirrors the Republican Tea Party politics that we've spent years coming out against.
And before I go, since I do follow a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters, if you're one of those Sanders supporters who claim they won't vote for Clinton if he loses, realize that you're almost certainly lying and if you aren't, you have no business trying to be political. Sitting out elections is what lazy people do, and to pretend that there is a mountain of difference between Sanders and Clinton, and then to dismiss the Grand Canyon between her and Rubio/Cruz is a fool's errand. If you doubt for a second that I won't be out campaigning for Sanders if he wins the primary because I know what's at stake, welcome to my blog-you should read a bit more of it. The general is too important for any Democrat to skip, but as I've stated above the primary is too important to not think before you vote.