“Bernie Sanders, you just won the Michigan primary. When are you going to drop out?” – Various media members
For years, we have been told that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. The adjectives in front of that title have included “eventual,” “inevitable,” and “presumptive” (presumptive being correct). All other comers, the thinking has gone, can come run for fun in the early states, but then they should back off and bow down.
Though I’m generally loath to partake in mainstream media bashing, this thinking has been abetted by many pundits and commentators. Indeed, immediately after Sanders’ impromptu press conference on Tuesday night thanking the people of Michigan for turning out to vote, a CBS News anchor—with a straight face—asked a correspondent if Sanders was going to step aside so Clinton could start focusing on the general election. Sanders, it seemed, had reached #PeakBernie. He’d win some pats on the back for getting his message out there—bravo, good chap—but now he and the people he represents should retreat back into the shadows. But there are plenty of reasons why Bernie should throw shade at any suggestion he quit the race.
He can win.
The polling average for Clinton had her up over 21 percent going into Tuesday’s contest in Michigan. FiveThirtyEight, whose founder Nate Silver correctly predicted how all 50 states would vote in the general election in 2012, placed Clinton’s probability of winning at greater than 99 percent.
Clearly, Sanders didn’t have a great shot, but his name was on the ballot, he got his message out there, and his campaign turned more people out to vote for him than Clinton’s campaign did for her. That’s called a win.
And although a lot of the punditry class1 talks about how the delegate math is working against him (which it is), delegate totals can change. The biggest, but not only, reason for Hillary Clinton’s delegate lead is Democratic Party superdelegates, who have come out overwhelmingly in support of Hillary Clinton. The assumption is that, “Hey, these people have endorsed Hillary and are campaigning for her, so they are locked in for her at the convention.”
Superdelegates can and do change their support as the political winds change. They want to avoid getting on the bad side of a winner, which can mean the difference between getting reelected and having the president “forget” to campaign for you as you face a tough primary challenger. If Hillary is no longer winning, however, there’s no need to support her.
Furthermore, as Jonathan Bernstein states in an August 2015 article for BloombergView.com, “Realistically…politicians and formal party leaders would never go against a clear decision by voters.” He nonetheless somehow comes to the conclusion that “Clinton has essentially wrapped up the nomination.” Well, no, she hasn’t, because…
…A lot of states haven’t voted yet
A lot of people haven’t taken a close look at both candidates yet because they haven’t had a chance to vote. As Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight points out in a mini-postmortem of the missed election call, “the most recent Michigan polls in our database stopped contacting voters Sunday, the night of the last debate, held in Flint, Michigan.”
That would suggest that late deciders are going to Bernie. And, considering we live in a democracy, our political parties should consider letting people actually vote. While it might be more “realistic” to assume that the majority would go for Hillary, the outcome in Michigan flips that assumption on its head because…
…He’s proven he’s competitive
A main critique of Sanders has been that he can’t win. Therefore, in the purest form of tautology I can think of, many people vote for Clinton because they believe she can win. Winning a big state like Michigan puts a major dent in that argument. In other words, as upcoming voters see that others have supported him, they are more likely to support him because, hey, he’s won elsewhere. And don’t forget…
…The longer he stays in, the more his message gets out
True, when Sanders initially got in the race, he was probably an issues candidate—someone who didn’t have much of a chance of winning but who saw running as a platform to get his message out. As some commentators have suggested, now that Bernie has been successful at getting his message out and pulling Clinton to the left on key issues, including Wall Street regulations and trade policy, he should drop out.
But that’s not how it works.
You don’t share your message, win nine states (including 4 of the last 6), and shut up shop, saying, “Well, a little under half the country heard my vision for the future and had a chance to vote for it. And a lot of them were really starting to respond to it. I think I’ll quit.” No, you keep going. You build on that support. You use those $27 donations people have been sending you, and you keep hammering that message until everyone has had the opportunity to hear you. If they reject your message in favor of Clinton’s, fine. But let’s not assume that getting Clinton to engage with your message during the first half of a primary campaign is the same as getting her to champion it during a general election. The longer she is forced to engage with Sanders’ ideas in front of primary voters, the more people will be there to hold her accountable when she has to take a stance in the general.
Presuming, of course, she gets the nomination.
- Of which I am one…albeit the punditry lower class. [↩]