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“Time For Grown-Up Talk”: Sanders Needs To Talk Down His Supporters And Explain That Nothing Is Being ‘Stolen’

Bernie Sanders gained a split decision in Tuesday’s presidential primaries, losing to Hillary Clinton by an eyelash in Kentucky and beating her by a more comfortable but reasonably close margin in Oregon. The net results won’t significantly reduce Clinton’s lead in pledged delegates, leaving Sanders with a nearly impossible task of winning the June 7 primaries by huge margins to overtake her. But again, it remains unclear whether Sanders will pack it in if he loses pledged delegates. Indeed, in a speech Tuesday night in California, Sanders simultaneously discussed the tough odds against winning a majority of pledged delegates and promised to “take the fight to Philadelphia,” apparently no matter what.

This ambiguous situation needs to be understood in the context of what happened this weekend in Nevada, where an ugly and fractious scene emerged at a state convention where four delegates to the Democratic National Convention were being selected. Veteran Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston watched it all and came away convinced the Sanders campaign had deliberately fed supporters spurious grievances over the rules in order to rationalize what was actually a fair-and-square Clinton victory in organizing for the event, which after all, simply confirmed Clinton’s earlier win in the February caucuses.

By the time hotel security shut down the event late Saturday evening, the Sanders delegates had hurled ugly epithets at Clinton surrogate Barbara Boxer and used a sign to block her from being shown on big screens; they had screamed vulgarities at state chairwoman Roberta Lange, who later received death threats after Sanders sympathizers posted her cellphone number and home address online; and they threw chairs at the stage as they rushed forward to try to take control of a convention they had lost, just as Sanders was defeated at the February 20 caucus by Clinton in a decisive result.

Ralston suspects this atmosphere of paranoia and self-pity could easily carry over to the national convention, assuming Clinton arrives there as the presumptive nominee via a narrow lead in pledged delegates. I’d say that’s a reasonable suspicion if Bernie Sanders and his campaign operatives continue to insinuate that the nomination is being stolen from him. The Nevada Democratic Party agreed in a letter to the DNC after Saturday’s near-riot:

We believe, unfortunately, that the tactics and behavior on display here in Nevada are harbingers of things to come as Democrats gather in Philadelphia in July for our National Convention. We write to alert you to what we perceive as the Sanders Campaign’s penchant for extra-parliamentary behavior — indeed, actual violence — in place of democratic conduct in a convention setting, and furthermore what we can only describe as their encouragement of, and complicity in, a very dangerous atmosphere that ended in chaos and physical threats to fellow Democrats.

And it’s not just mainstream media folk and Establishment Democrats who feel this way. Esquire‘s Charles Pierce, a Sanders supporter, was upset enough about Nevada to urge Sanders to “pack up and go home”:

[T]he Sanders people should know better than to conclude what has been a brilliant and important campaign by turning it into an extended temper tantrum.

I voted for Bernie Sanders … But if anybody thinks that, somehow, he is having the nomination “stolen” from him, they are idiots.

Nevada aside, consider the three arguments heard most often from the Sanders campaign against the unfair conditions it has endured.

The first is that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz conspired to limit opportunities for candidate debates. That’s probably true. But there’s no particular evidence these events disproportionately benefited Sanders, who had no trouble getting to the starting gate with high name ID and plenty of support (viz the “virtual tie” in Iowa and his big win in New Hampshire). And she was forced to add some debates. Don’t know about you, but I feel like I heard from the candidates enough.

The second is that closed primaries (aggravated in some states by very early deadlines for changing party affiliation) disenfranchised many Sanders supporters. Let’s be clear about this: None of the primary participation rules were set after the Clinton-Sanders competition emerged. States with closed primaries have for the most part always had closed primaries. Until this cycle, moreover, it was typically Democratic progressives, not “centrist” Democrats, who favored closed primaries as a way to elevate the influence of “base” as opposed to “swing” voters. In no way, shape or form were these rules set to thwart Sanders or candidates like him.

And the third is that superdelegates (who at present overwhelmingly support Clinton) have tilted the playing field away from the people-powered Sanders all along. But Bernie’s people have a “clean hands” problem in making this argument, since they are simultaneously appealing to superdelegates to be prepared to deny the nomination to the pledged delegate winner (almost certainly Clinton) based on elites’ superior understanding of electability criteria. Beyond that, this is the ninth presidential cycle in which Democrats have given superdelegates a role in the nominating process. It’s not like it’s a nasty surprise sprung on the poor Sanders campaign at the last minute to seize the nomination for Clinton.

But even if these arguments for a big Bernie grievance are pretty empty, you can appreciate that the close nature of this year’s nominating contest makes it easy to assume something fishy happened, particularly if you begin with the assumption, as some Sanders supporters do, that your opponents are unprincipled corporate shills. It’s like Florida 2000: In a race this close, you can blame the outcome on anything that makes you mad, from Joe Lieberman’s support for counting overseas military ballots to Ralph Nader’s presence on the ballot to dozens of single events like the Brooks Brothers Riot.

Unfortunately, in a statement Sanders issued after the torrent of criticism over his supporters’ behavior in Nevada, the candidate was defiant, perfunctorily disclaiming violence and identifying closed primaries with dependence on corrupt big money cash. Prominent progressive blogger Josh Marshall read it and commented on Twitter:

For weeks I’ve thought and written that Sanders Camp Manager Jeff Weaver was the driver of toxicity in this race. But what I’ve heard in a series of conversations over recent weeks w/highly knowledgable people forced me to conclude that I had that wrong. It may be him too. But the burn it down attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in the statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top.

One thing is largely indisputable: Bernie Sanders himself could help clear the air by informing his supporters that while there are many things about the Democratic nomination process that ought to be changed, no one has “stolen” the nomination from him or from them. Perhaps a thousand small things gave Hillary Clinton an “unfair” advantage in this contest, but they were mostly baked into the cake, not contrived to throw cold water on the Bern. And the best step Sanders’ supporters could take to promote their long-term interests in the Democratic Party would be to get a grip before they wind up helping Donald Trump win the presidency. And Bernie Sanders himself has a responsibility to talk his devoted followers off the ledge.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 18, 2016

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Sanders Supporters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“His Campaign Has Developed A Closed Feedback Loop”: Does Sanders Continue To Deserve The Benefit Of The Doubt?

From the beginning I questioned the seriousness of Bernie Sanders’ proposals. Long before the disastrous New York Daily News interview, it seemed obvious to me that he was better at pointing out problems than he was at crafting actual solutions.

Then came the debates. Sanders’ explanation for any barrier to progressive change was the corruption of big money – that was true for both Democrats and Republicans. Discussion became almost impossible. Anyone who didn’t agree with him was an establishment sell-out.

As it became increasingly clear that he was going to lose the nomination to Hillary Clinton – despite doing better than anyone thought he would – the excuses began. It was because Southern states with African American voters went early in the process. Then it was because of closed primaries. Initially the campaign railed against the superdelegates. All that was reversed in an attempt to justify Sanders staying in the race based on the idea that he could flip them to support him instead of Clinton. None of that made any sense and his message got lost in complaints about the process.

Through all of that I wanted to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe that he was in this race to promote the progressive ideas he has championed his entire career, and that when the results were all in, he would do what Clinton did in 2008…support the nominee and come out of the convention in Philadelphia as a unified party.

Believing that wasn’t a pipe dream. During his time in the House and Senate, Sanders has demonstrated the ability to work within the system to advocate for progressive change. For example, in 2009 he proposed single payer in the Senate, but pulled the bill when it was clear that it didn’t have the votes. He then went on to fight for positive changes to Obamacare (i.e., community health centers) and eventually voted for it.

But the time for giving Sanders the benefit of the doubt might have ended. Paul Waldman explains it well.

If he and his people want to actually exercise some influence, they’ll have to start thinking about mundane things like presidential appointments, executive branch regulations, and the details of complex legislation. Victories in those forums will be partial and sporadic. From our vantage point today, is there anything to suggest that’s an enterprise he and his people will be willing to devote their efforts to? What happens if Clinton offers Sanders something — changes to the party’s platform, or input on her nominees? Will his supporters say, “This may not have been all we wanted, but it’s still meaningful”? No, they won’t. They’ll see it as a compromise with the corrupt system they’ve been fighting, a sellout, thirty pieces of silver that Sanders ought to toss back in her face. That’s because Sanders has told them over and over that the system is irredeemable, and nothing short of its complete dismantling is worthwhile…

To be honest, at the moment it looks like there’s no going back. Sanders could come out tomorrow and tell his supporters that even if they don’t get their revolution, it’s still worth working for every bit of positive change they can achieve. But that would mean disavowing everything he’s told them up until now.

In other words, the Sanders campaign has developed a closed feedback loop. No matter the outcome, it reinforces the premise. It is hard to see how that changes.

My one remaining hope was that perhaps the candidate himself could break out and convince at least some of his supporters to take a more constructive path. Martin is right, they’re not all Bernie Bros. That hope was beginning to die when Josh Marshall pulled the final plug.

For months I’d thought and written that Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver was the key driver of toxicity in the the Democratic primary race…

But now I realize I had that wrong.

Actually, I didn’t realize it. People who know told me.

Over the last several weeks I’ve had a series of conversations with multiple highly knowledgable, highly placed people. Perhaps it’s coming from Weaver too. The two guys have been together for decades. But the ‘burn it down’ attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in that statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top.

We are reaching the end game here. The question for me isn’t so much about what Clinton will do – she is putting her energy into winning the remaining states and has already begun to pivot to the general election. What remains to be seen is what happens to the progressive movement in the Democratic Party. If Sanders insists on “burning things down,” will it survive?

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 19, 2016

May 20, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton, Sanders Supporters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Very Different Level Of Self-Confidence”: Democrats Consider Opening, While GOP Closing, Primaries To Independents

If you have been following the very public discussions of the Sandernistas about what to demand at and after the Democratic National Convention in exchange for enthusiastic support of the party nominee, you’ve probably noticed that “open primaries” are on most lists. In some respects that’s just a contemporaneous impulse based on Sanders’s unquestioned appeal to Democratic-leaning independents in this year’s primaries. To the magical thinker, some sort of party gesture in favor of banning closed primaries retroactively shows Bernie should have won after all. But the discussion also reflects a long-standing argument — which, ironically, party “centrists” used to regularly make — that encouraging independents to participate in Democratic primaries is a good way to grow the party base and to prepare Democratic candidates for general elections.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the talk at both the grassroots and elite levels about primary rules is very different:

Conservatives, still reeling over the looming nomination of Donald Trump, are pushing new Republican primary rules that might have prevented the mogul’s victory in the first place: shutting out independents and Democrats from helping to pick the GOP nominee

The advocates are finding a sympathetic ear at the very top of the party. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has long supported closed primaries, but has never had a constituency to back him on it.

Now you could say these opposite impulses have in common a “sore loser” motive. Still, they represent a very different level of self-confidence about the appeal of the two parties’ core ideologies: the Democratic Left, which used to call itself the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” thinks a broader party base would be more progressive, while the Republican Right wants as small a tent as possible.

Having said all that, it’s unlikely either party will immediately change the system. For one thing, primary access rules are generally set by state governments and (when allowed by state laws) state parties; only some cumbersome and politically perilous carrot-and-stick process is available to the national parties to influence these rules. It will be particularly troublesome for state governments to set up primaries that comply with both parties’ rules if they are tugging in opposite directions. Additionally, implementing a uniform closed-primary system like so many Republicans want would be problematic in states that do not and have never had party registration. Beyond that, there are other ways to skin the cat and make it easier or harder for independents to participate in primaries, such as manipulating re-registration deadlines (opportunities to easily change party affiliation at the polls or caucus-site make the open-closed distinction largely irrelevant).

But without question, if either or both parties want to send a big bold signal to independents by passing some sort of resolution or hortatory rules change at their conventions, they can do so. Among Democrats, more than enough Clinton Democrats from open-primary states would likely join Sanders delegates to create a comfortable majority for some “open the primaries” gesture in Philadelphia. And among Republicans, a close-the-primaries gesture is precisely the sort of measure that could provide an outlet for frustrated delegates bound to Donald Trump on the first ballot but free to disrespect the mogul on rules and platform votes. But Republicans should beware: All else being equal, closing doors is far less popular than opening them.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, May 13, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Democratic National Convention, Primaries, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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