The Bernie Backlash

Number 1.  The media is making a way bigger deal out of this than it actually is.  The media has a built-in bias for conflict and negativity.  And they hate, carefully orchestrated PR events like conventions with no real news.  Hey, look, the nominee is official and a bunch of people gave speeches.  Therefore, whatever conflict there is, will always be dramatically magnified.

Number 2.  The Bernie delegates are not a representative sample of Bernie supporters.  In many cases, they are the most committed.  And many of them are not your typical Democratic party pols.  So, they are more likely to make a fuss as we’ve seen.  Add number 1 and number 2 = media catnip and blowing this out of proportion.

The actual Bernie supporters?  Jamelle Bouie:

Yes, there are angry and discontented delegates who supported Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Some are avowedly anti-Hillary and believe Sanders was sabotaged by the DNC in an effort to subvert the will of Democratic voters. There is no evidence that this is true. If, in January, you looked at nothing but the demographics of Clinton and Sanders support, you could have predicted the outcome. Here’s what I wrote at the beginning of the year. “If Sanders can break or subvert Clinton’s relationship with black Democrats, he can win. If he can’t, he won’t.”

More important than the mechanics of the primary, however, is the simple fact that these delegates—these vehemently anti-Clinton voters—are an unrepresentative minority of all Bernie supporters. Of the voters who backed Sanders throughout the course of the Democratic primary, 90 percent support Clinton, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center. [emphasis mine] Of those who switched from Clinton to Sanders or from Sanders to Clinton, 88 percent now back Clinton. Even with a third-party candidate in the mix, as noted by Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight, the picture is one of general unity, with around a third of Sanders’ primary voters rejecting the Clinton ticket. And those voters are neither regular voters nor consistent Democrats. Many are voters who normally support third-party candidates, but who signed on to Bernie’s campaign because of its distance from the Democratic establishment.


The problem: Sanders had little control over his delegates, who seemed unwilling to get behind his endorsement of Clinton. This was in part a matter of sloppiness on the part of Sanders’s team in selecting delegates. But as one operative told me, there was another reason Sanders’s delegation was so unruly: Everyone was so afraid to cross Clinton by serving as a Sanders delegate that he couldn’t convince the kind of party loyalists who normally take the job to do it.

Instead, many Sanders delegates come from the world of left-wing protest culture rather than party politics. And on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center, they acted like it.

This may be one reason Silverman’s speech resonated with these boisterous delegates whereas earlier politicians’ speeches tended to alienate: She’s an outsider too.

And another Yglesias post:

Every modern political convention features thousands of delegates. And traditionally, a candidate’s slate of delegates from a given state will draw heavily from the ranks of local politicians and politician-aligned interest groups.

For example, in Washington, DC, Hillary Clinton’s delegates include the mayor, a couple of members of the DC council, an ex-council member currently serving in the mayor’s Cabinet, and so forth.

As a website for Sanders supporters explains: “Delegates are often party activists, local political leaders, or early supporters of a given candidate. … Delegates can also include members of a campaign’s steering committee. In some cases, delegates are long-time active members of their local party organization.”

But while this is an excellent description of Clinton’s delegates, it does not describe Sanders’s delegates at all. As one longtime Massachusetts Democratic Party hack observed, Clinton’s delegates were almost all people he recognized from party politics. Sanders’s were not.

Drum on Bernie’s responsibility for this:

Our reporters say that Sanders “looked a bit surprised by the intensity of the Clinton opposition.” I can’t imagine why. This is one of the big problems I had with him back during the primary. It’s one thing to fight on policy grounds, as he originally said he would, but when you start promising the moon and explicitly accusing Hillary Clinton of being a corrupt shill for Wall Street—well, there are some bells that can be unrung. He convinced his followers that Hillary was a corporate warmonger more concerned with lining her own pockets than with progressive principles, and they still believe it. And why wouldn’t they? Their hero told them it was true.

Hillary is no saint. But her reputation as dishonest and untrustworthy is about 90 percent invention. Republicans have been throwing mud against the wall forever in an attempt to smear her, and the press has played along eagerly the entire time. When Bernie went down that road, he was taking advantage of decades of Republican lies in the hopes of winning an unwinnable battle. He was also playing directly into Donald Trump’s hands.

And, finally, Seth Masket on the nothingburger that is the emails the Bernie supporters are so freaked out about:

The disclosed e-mails have been depicted as showing a rigged system that systematically undermined Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

But even if you believe the worst interpretations of these e-mails, the evidence is pretty mild. What we see is DNC staffers trying to spin the media in favor ofHillary Clinton and to complain to each other about Sanders. One certainly does not get the impression that the DNC staff was impartial between Clinton and Sanders — they appear biased and unprofessional — but there’s hardly evidence they materially manipulated the contest.

If one wants evidence of that, look to the overwhelming numbers of Democratic governors, senators, representatives, and state legislators who endorsed Clinton last year. Look at the Barack Obama-leaning super PAC thatannounced its support for herback in 2014. All these things had the effect of scaring off qualified Democratic candidates. Arguably, sure, they limited voters’ choices, they tilted the contest toward Clinton, and they weren’t fair. But they’re a pretty far cry from corruption or criminality. And to expect Democratic Party staffers to be impartial in their internal correspondence about a contest between Clinton and someone who arguably isn’t even a Democrat just seems unrealistic.

I’m certainly not claiming that anything is permissible as long as it’s better than what Nixon did. But we need to recognize the challenges of expecting a party to impartially manage a contest in which it clearly has preferred outcomes.

And it’s really hard to find evidence that Sanders’ voice was in any meaningful way squelched. He had nine debates with Clinton to make his case. He kept pace with her in fundraising. He was competitive in basically every state contest and had no trouble recruiting many dedicated volunteers, caucus-goers, and voters. He simply came up short. If this is a rigged system, then basically every contest is.

So, short version.  Hillary voters: relax, but be annoyed at the media (but accept that this is simply the media reality).


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The Bernie Backlash

  1. ohwilleke says:

    “with around a third of Sanders’ primary voters rejecting the Clinton ticket.”

    This number is not small and far greater than the non-support of the primary winner rate for more conventional primary contestants. For example, I’m sure that one-third of Clinton voters did not reject the Obama ticket in 2008.

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