Bernie Sanders was banking all of his hopes on winning California, which went to Clinton in overwhelming numbers (56 to 43%). If Sanders had won California, he would have had a very strong case to win the Democratic nomination by tying with Clinton in the pledged delegate count. His loss implies that his chances to win are essentially nil. His chances were certainly diminished by the media calling Clinton as the winner prematurely, thus demotivating potential Sanders voters to go to the polls. There is one more symbolic primary next week in Washington DC. In his latest speech, Sanders announced that he wants to fight for every single delegate, though his language was vague enough to suggest that he would either officially drop out by the DC primary or go to the Philadelphia convention and commit to a “floor fight”, which is the audacious proposition to convince the majority of the superdelegates to flip their vote from Clinton to Sanders.
That proposition is rather strange, because Sanders strongest case until recently was that the superdelegates are undemocratic and do not reflect the real interests of the voting base. The implication is that they should be abolished. But you can’t demand the abolition of the same institution for which you hope that it will get you the nomination. Sanders will now argue that the superdelegates should support him, because the polls indicate that he has a higher chance of winning against Donald Trump than Clinton.
The reason for that is obvious for any reasonable person to see: in this election, voters are so sick and tired of establishment politics and the same-old, which does not deliver, either on jobs, affordable health care, a college education or a retirement. The bedrock of the American Dream is destroyed by foolish government policies that exacerbate inequality and don’t solve the issues that burn in the eyes of the voters. Clinton is the establishment, and Sanders and Trump are not. Sanders has the good policies, while Trump does not.
There is no suggestion at all that Trump would solve these aforementioned problems any better than Clinton. His outrageous racism, plans to build a wall to Mexico and “make them pay for it”, introduce a 35% tariff on Chinese imported goods and to “remove the lines” between states on the health care market either lack feasibility or don’t solve any of our problems. Trump is a buffoon, but a clever buffoon, who can so easily manipulate the masses, rile them up and focus their anger on the political establishment and some new minority group. What Trump knows better than any other candidate is how to use the 24/7 news cycle in his favor. Make an outrageous statement, the viewers will like it, the media will cover it, and the advertising money will keep pouring in.
Also, his messages are so simple, you barely need any secondary education to understand it. Bernie Sanders tries to explain why inequality is bad for the society and the economy, and the professors and students in the audience will clap enthusiastically in his rallies, but it is more difficult to reach the masses in that way. When Trump shouts “Crooked Hillary” everyone understands that. In a country of intelligent people, Trump would stand no chance, but that is not the nature of society nor of democracy during uncertain political times.
What it means for the general election match Clinton vs. Trump is that Clinton will be associated with the status quo that does not work for the people, and Trump will be considered the guy, who will shake up things. That puts the odds in Trump’s favor. The optics for Clinton cannot be worse. I don’t particularly care about her e-mails or Benghazi, or other right-wing fabrications, which don’t really matter to the general public. What troubles me are her policy positions. She wanted to go into Libya and then even Syria. She believes strongly in regime change. She wants to retain Obamacare despite the escalating costs and the threat it thus poses to the financial security of Americans. She supported the TPP, a trade agreement, as secretary of state, and now opposes it. She did not talk much about the minimum wage until Sanders brought it up (and now she has every reason to downplay it for the general election). Her proposal for “debt-free” college are quite nebulous and don’t go as far as Sanders’ plan.
With the Democratic nomination wrapping up and both sides preparing for the general election, we can see the contours of what will happen in the fall. The Democratic nomination process was filled with policy ideas during the debates, mainly propelled by Sanders, who has a laser-sharp focus like a union organizer with a clip board rattling down the progressive agenda that Americans need. Let’s focus on the issues, and forget the soap opera part of politics, which is the way how the corporate media earns its daily bread.
What we will see in the fall will be nothing like that. In Clinton’s foreign policy speech, all she did was attack Donald Trump for being a lunatic and a danger to US national security. I don’t necessarily want to contest those claims (except that Trump does not shoot as straight as he talks and pretends, but leave that aside), but simply point out what the irony in this situation is. Clinton will not have to waste a second talking up a progressive agenda, as she did when she was on stage with Sanders. The progressive agenda is not the natural instinct of Clinton. As I argue, it is something much more basic: the lust for power. This is the only golden thread that I can see to connect all her policy decisions. Clinton tries to win the elections by saying that Trump is worse than her. That will wonderfully distract from the status quo oriented policies that she had always intended to pursue. It is the fear of the greater evil rather than the hope for better policies that should motivate the voters in the fall. In an election among the lesser evils, the voter turnout will be very low, which has potential bad outcomes for both sides, but maybe a small advantage for Republicans.
For those on the left the question is what to do next? What should Sanders do next? I certainly don’t discourage him from taking up the “floor fight” at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, and see how far he gets with his rousing speech. But again, the optics is bad for Sanders. He could make the case that superdelegates should vote the same way that pledged delegates vote, but because Clinton has nearly 400 more pledged delegates than Sanders, it would still hand the victory to Clinton. The only way he could win at this point is to essentially convince all the superdelegates to back him, but that would be very unlikely and as undemocratic as when he complained about the premature superdelegate support for Clinton (at 10-to-1). Sanders, the political independent, who joined the Democratic Party only last year to run for the presidency, now faces a bitter dead-end with the Democratic Party.
The only way for him to stay in the race would be to run as an independent, but that is very unlikely given that he used up his political capital trying to run within the Democratic Party. Sanders is still an incumbent US Senator and has two more years to his term. If his health holds up (which I don’t doubt it will), he will be handily re-elected (maybe even unopposed) for a third term in 2018. Sanders’ political future is not at stake, though he has used up his opportunity to become president. Rather it is the progressive movement, which now has to take a backseat in 2016 presidential election politics. Given the bad choices on both sides, I recommend an electoral abstention.
Some people will now criticize me by saying that such electoral cynicism will make it less likely to have the lesser evil (Clinton) elected, and could make us end up with Trump. This is a probable nightmare scenario, though in the best case scenario president Trump will be some fits of blustering, and embarrassment to the country, but no big change in policy, because the rest of the political system does not support his tantrums. I quite frankly don’t see how Clinton can be considered the lesser of the two evils. The difference is that Clinton is predictably evil (neocon, status quo, growth of inequality), while Trump is unpredictably evil (a tinge of fascism and also the growth of inequality). People are not given any good choices, so the left has to hope that the Congressional races have more promising candidates, or for 2020 and 2024, when popular anger and frustration will be even bigger than what we see today.