Reporter's Notebook

Hillary vs. Bernie
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A reader debate over the leading Democratic candidates of the 2016 presidential primary.

Show None Newer Notes

How Vetted Is Sanders? Cont'd

Another reader, Jon Barber, addresses the question:

I had also read the several media pieces that delved into Bernie Sanders’s past. Yes, there were a few quirky things as a young man, but not the type of stuff that make a difference to the independent voter. What we don’t find are scandals or unethical behavior. There is no red meat. I found the vetting articles to be refreshing for that reason because it confirmed his reputation for honesty and ethics and that’s the vetted material that impresses independents.

Can we say the same thing about Hillary Clinton? It doesn’t really matter. She has the negatives of more than 50 percent that never really drop. Those numbers comes from her looseness with the truth over the years.

I could list plenty of hypocritical actions or statements from her. My favorite is how she was bilking colleges of hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking fees to get up to the podium to talk about how much college costs for students. Gee Hillary, your fees weren’t part of the problem?

Personally, I think the Democratic race is over and this subject is a moot point.

One of many similar tweets going around today:

Here’s a bit more on Bernie’s time in Chicago:

As a student at the University of Chicago, Sanders was active in both the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1962, he was arrested for protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago; the police came to call him an outside agitator, as he went around putting up flyers around the city detailing police brutality.

Another tweet floating around goes further than the one above, claiming that “if elected, Goldwater promised to overturn the Civil Rights Act and re-segregate the nation.” That’s not true; he backed the 1964 GOP platform that endorsed “full implementation and faithful execution of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and all other civil rights statutes, to assure equal rights and opportunities guaranteed by the Constitution to every citizen.” Goldwater did vote against the 1964 bill, but from the standpoint of a constitutionalist, not segregationist. In fact, Goldwater was very much committed to civil rights at the state and local level. For instance, he was a founding member of the Arizona NAACP and helped integrate the Phoenix public schools. Lee Edwards, in his biography of Goldwater, further details his complex political persona:

Another skilled writer from our inbox is deeply skeptical of a Sanders presidency:

One thing I still have trouble understanding is how Bernie believes he can be an effective commander in chief. President Obama, whom I think of as a moderate/pragmatic Democrat, came into office riding a wave of popular support and a mandate for change following eight years of Bush and a financial crisis. He also had overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate.

Yet, he still struggled to get his agenda through Congress.

In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, Ron Brownstein spotlights “the single most important dividing line in the struggle between Sanders and Clinton”—age:

He crushed Clinton by an almost unimaginable 6-1 (84 percent to 14 percent) among voters younger than 30. For those tempted to dismiss that as just a campus craze, he also routed her by 58 percent to 37 percent among those aged 30-44. But Clinton’s margins were almost as impressive among older voters: she beat Sanders 58 percent to 35 percent among those aged 45-64, and by 69 percent to 26 percent among seniors.

A reader remarks on those “astonishing” numbers:

Now I know for the first time how much trouble Hillary is going to be in come November. The Democrat Party needs young people to turn out in big numbers, and young people apparently can’t stand her. I guess Lena Dunham’s pleas fell on deaf ears?

But seriously though, this might be the biggest news from last night. Look for Hillary to double her youth outreach efforts. Look for lots of lame comedy videos and young celeb endorsements.

This reader isn’t as worried for Clinton: “Hillary has the edge: Young people don’t turn out to vote.” Another reader wonders why Sanders—age 74, six years older than Clinton—is killing it with the kids:

Young people have always wanted to upset the old order and change things. My generation fell in love with Gene McCarthy in the ‘60s. Like Sanders, McCarthy was able to portray himself as an outsider who was going to deliver us from the dark and save us from the madness.

Sanders is hitting all the right revolutionary rhetorical notes, but eventually his people will realize that his promises are just too good to be true.

One reader’s answer:

Hillary is the stodgy, old politician while Bernie is fun, exciting, and new. Yeah, Bernie has been around politics forever, but no one outside Vermont other than political junkies knew who he was until about six months ago. Bernie’s appeal with college kids is especially unsurprising, since he basically carries himself like a lovable old college professor.

And why doesn’t the self-described socialist alienate many Democrats with that label? “I think young people haven’t generated enough assets and are far enough away from natural death to not be scared by social democracy,” says one reader. Not to mention that Millennials have no living memory of Cold War communism. And the Republicans have overused “socialist” over the past seven years to describe the the country’s center-left, pragmatic president and other mainstream Democrats, so perhaps the term is becoming normalized—a crying wolf, of sorts. Here’s another reader:

Why is the age gap is so stark? I’ll give you a hint: it is not because we think Bernie Sanders is totally radical, dude. It’s simple: The Internet.

A reader suggests that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing most of the turmoil within the Democratic Party right now:

Molly Ball writes, “Many Sanders supporters told me they had once liked Clinton, but over the course of the primary they have come to dislike and distrust her.” This is exactly what is happening for many Bernie supporters, and much of the blame lies on the DNC. Whether you believe the game was “rigged,” you have to admit that having the former campaign chair of one of the candidates heading up the party as DNC chair during the primary creates the appearance of impropriety.

This next reader, John Mensing, contends that Bernie has already won the Democratic primary, based on expectations:

Well, Chris, the most salient point that’s been missing from most articles on the subject—including columns in The Atlantic like “This Is How Revolutions End”—is that Hillary lost. She came into the race as the presumptive nominee with every advantage: a brace of superPACs, munificent funding, media that had donated already generously to her campaign, name recognition, and the “thumb on the scale” chicanery of machine politics at the precinct level. She was supposed to either have enough pledged delegates by now to have the nomination secured (like Trump does) or be in sight of that total.

Instead, she lost. She failed to get enough delegates, and so, come June 7th [the day of California’s primary], she will not have the requisite total.

Clinton does look increasingly likely to lose California based on the latest polling, but John’s claim that she will not have the requisite number of delegates is dubious, according to a new NYT report: “She is expected to reach the 2,383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination roughly three hours before the California results are tallied, when the polls close in New Jersey, a mathematical fact that Mrs. Clinton’s allies have been reciting to reporters.” Back to John:

So she, and her surrogates, are trying to spin this, saying that the superdelegates—whose job, after all, is to decide in just such a contest, where a presumptive nominee fails to get the requisite number, which is the best candidate—have already been bought. It’s all spin, spin, spin. And people recognize it, and are disgusted by it, and are disgusted with Hillary.

She’s a weak candidate. Sanders is a much more viable alternative. Getting people to like Hillary more is like getting people to like Nixon more.

A great sports analogy from reader Brad regarding this late moment in the Democratic race:

I have no preference over who wins the nomination. My comments are about the nature of competition in the homestretch. I’m tired of hearing about poll numbers and how Bernie should drop out of the race because the delegate count is impossible, etc. In the political arena, things can change on a whim just like in sports, or life in general.

This is a hilarious football play that shows my point:

Say Beebe saw that Lett had such a lead and thought, “There’s no way I can catch him” and gave up. Lett would’ve scored and been celebrating a lot more than he already was. But instead, Beebe hustled and stripped Lett at the last second.

Imagine these scenarios: Say a hot mic picked up Hillary saying something crazy or a racial epitaph or something. That might be something that could sway voters on the fence. Or let’s go back to 2008. Imagine if Obama got caught saying something crazy, or dissing women or whatever. I think that might have swayed a lot of people to vote for Clinton. Although these are extreme examples and the former isn’t likely, my point is that you play the game to the end because you don’t know what could happen.

If I were Sanders and came all this way, I wouldn’t stop; anything can happen. Similarly, if I was Clinton, I wouldn’t say “I got a such a big lead, I’m going to stop. No, I’m playing the game to the final whistle.”

As Hillary Clinton passes the threshold of delegates needed to secure the nomination, and she and Bernie Sanders vie over the big prize today in California—which our Politics team is covering minute to minute—here’s a sharp analysis from a reader, Monica Bauer, Ph.D., that could end up being a capstone to our long-running thread on the Democratic face-off:

I’m a retired political science professor. I’ve also been a candidate who’s lost an election, and I understand there’s a natural tendency to fall into what I call “campaign psychosis,” where you only see what you want to see. Everybody understands the human desire to hold onto hope.

But here is what I’ve seen that is unique to this primary: The Sanders campaign would have been dead long ago under the old rules of presidential politics, if the only source of campaign cash were coming from rational actors (the dreaded “donor class”) who stop giving money once all signs point to failure. Bernie would have been gone in March.

If the Sanders campaign existed before social media, it would have had to spend money to communicate to supporters and would not have been able to count on the free services of millions of activists on Twitter and Facebook that are easily able to gather at a moment's notice. Gone by March.

It is the ease with which campaign cash can be generated and followers exhorted that has come only with a robust social media environment that has artificially kept a fringe candidate not only alive, but able to thrive by winning low turnout caucuses where a small number of fanatical followers can easily be translated into victory.

A second set of phenomena has been unique to the Clinton/Sanders race. 

With Hillary Clinton now the clear presumptive nominee, should Sanders finally step aside and end his campaign, or should he continue forward into the convention in late July? This reader, Dan, “a Bernie supporter who also thinks Hillary could be a good president,” thinks Sanders should stay in the race:

Bernie certainly shouldn’t go negative on Hillary, BUT—here are two reasons for him to remain:

1) Bernie deserves influence on the VP pick and the platform. A Clinton/Warren ticket looks very different from Clinton/Tim Kaine, and a platform based on progressive principles (that Hillary herself has espoused at various times in her career) is very different from a neoliberal Bill Clinton platform.

2) He’s a viable backup if Hillary gets indicted (fairly or otherwise). Far better to drop Bernie in when he got 45% of the vote than, say, Joe Biden (who didn’t get a single vote). I’m sure the indictment would be highly politically motivated, but we don’t want to be fighting one during a campaign!

Reader David adds more generally, “The longer Bernie stays in the race, the more likely it is that his movement will endure and make a lasting impact on the Democrats.” That lasting impact could be at the state-legislature level, given Sanders’s fundraising focus there, as Clare recently reported

Another Sanders supporter, Robert Henry Eller—the reader who rebutted a pro-Clinton reader yesterday evening—expands on the idea of Sanders staying in the race to shape the party platform:

I don’t think it is very likely that Sanders will get the nomination. Nonetheless, I think it is correct and important for him to stay in the race into the nominating convention. I am more committed to the platform than to the candidate, and I believe Sanders feels the same way. I want to see Sanders’ platform impact the Democratic platform as much as possible.

Monica Bauer is our pro-Clinton reader and retired poli-sci professor who argued at length that many Sanders supporters are suffering from “campaign psychosis” by not acknowledging that he doesn’t have a chance of becoming the nominee based on the delegate rules. In that same note, reader Robert Henry Eller rebutted Monica at length. Here’s a quick retort from Andy, a reader in Canada:

Monica Bauer calls Sanders a “fringe candidate”? On Tuesday, 1.4 million Californians voted for Clinton and one million for Sanders. Sanders is her definition of a fringe candidate?

The overall tally is about 16 million and 12.3 million—in Clinton’s favor, of course. In a followup note, Monica responds to Robert:

Mr. Eller argues his case largely by accusing me of not being specific, but there are many, many examples of campaign psychosis that are evident in the factual record of the Sanders campaign.

Campaign psychosis is the willful ignoring of facts in favor of engaging in wishful thinking. Therefore, it is simple to test whether or not both campaigns have engaged in this. Here it is: How has the Sanders campaign explained its losses? The system must be rigged, the Establishment is against us, the Southern primaries reflect the votes of more conservative Democrats, and on and on.

All of these excuses have been debunked to the satisfaction of all but the most enthusiastic conspiracy theorists. Please show me the facts of all the excuses the Clinton campaign has used when she has lost. Let’s see the whiny protests. Let’s see the abandonment of facts for wishful thinking on the part of the Clinton campaign. 

Mr. Eller falls into the fallacy that the media often demonstrate, that “both sides” must somehow equally be at fault in every instance. No, there does not seem to be a trail of facts where the Clinton campaign ignores the math, makes promises of magical victories to come based on nothing stronger than the Clintonesque version of “feeling the Bern,” etc.

I remember well the 2008 Democratic primaries, and how Clinton held on to the bitter end similar to Sanders this year (though the latter is decidedly more behind in delegates and the popular vote than Clinton was to Obama). Obama became the presumptive nominee on June 3—when the last two states voted—and Clinton conceded on June 7, so by that standard Sanders should concede within two days or he’ll be clinging on even more than she did.

I dug up a May 28 Atlantic post from Marc Ambinder that featured “Clinton’s Closing Argument To Superdelegates,” since superdelegates by that point could have swung the nomination to Clinton despite Obama’s lead in pledged delegates. (Sanders is making a similar plea now, as Conor just covered.)  Here’s Marc:

In a final plea to undeclared Democratic superdelegates, Sen. Hillary Clinton points to her lead in the popular vote, some recent polling showing her strength against John McCain, and surveys showing that voters believe she is ready to serve as commander in chief. In a letter, sent Tuesday, and in an extensive memo, sent today, Clinton frames the choice for superdelegates as one between a candidate who has won more delegates in caucuses [Obama] and a candidate who has won more delegates in primaries and has won the popular vote [Clinton].

But as concludes, “Only by counting Michigan, where Clinton’s name was on the ballot but Obama’s was not, can Clinton claim to have won more votes.” Michigan had broken the DNC rules, stripping the state of delegates, so both candidates pledged not to campaign there; the same went for Florida. Yet:

[V]oter turnout in both states was relatively low when compared with record-high turnout in other states. Nevertheless, Clinton claimed wins in Florida and Michigan, and she flew to Fort Lauderdale on the night of the Florida election to thank supporters for what she called a “tremendous victory.”

So it seems Clinton had a bit of “campaign psychosis” of her own in 2008, when she was the one behind. Back to Monica:

The Clinton campaign has been reliant on thinking and reasoning, not “feeling.” So her opponents imagine that it is somehow a bad thing to be all about facts and issues, as opposed to the romance of feelings and “revolution.” But that is an argument for another essay. 

Back to Mr. Ellers.

Via hello@, reader Pavan J. provides a solid but measured defense of the caucus system:

I would like to comment briefly on Prof. Bauer’s trashing of caucuses only because it seems to be a repeated line of attack from certain quarters for being undemocratic. Yes, it is regrettable that caucuses demand more from their participants and this hurts people who have to work for a living. However, caucuses also hew closer to the Tocquevillian ideal of American democracy as being a deliberative exchange of ideas. They attract more passionate participants, but these also tend to be more committed and informed participants.

Primaries, in contrast, disproportionately favor candidates with name recognition, tilting the scales in favor of established players, celebrity politicians, people with deep enough pockets to run expansive advertising campaigns, and the favor and patronage of machine-style political bosses. The larger the state, the more true this becomes and the more pronounced this advantage gets.