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 Out of Touch Is the Sanders Campaign at This Point?

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.

A photo posted by @theonion on

A reader, Robert Eller, writes:

Dear Ms. Foran: “The End of a Political Revolution” was an unfortunate and uncharacteristically poor title for an Atlantic article, particularly one which otherwise was quite correct. Even Senator Sanders knew, and said as much repeatedly, that his election would not be “the revolution” he has been urging, and which he’ll likely continue to argue and work for. Thus his losing the nomination augers nothing about “the revolution.” Whether the revolution has ended is yet to be seen—and will be determined not by Sanders, but by the preponderance of Millennials who responded to him.

By contrast, President Obama’s first election heralded the end, not the beginning, of the revolution many anticipated with his victory. This was because Obama unwisely demobilized his troops—his active supporters—as soon as he was elected, as if he had won a victory rather than just a battle.

Sanders recognized and articulated Obama’s unforced error. And Sanders troops do not have to disband, just because Sanders lost. I suspect they can even continue be funded by the same Sanders supporters who donated to his campaign.

“The revolution” was always about what happened in the Congress and in state and local governments. So we have yet to see if it’s alive or dead.

Bernie Sanders certainly made clear that the political revolution was never solely about himor any single candidate. And yet, when Sanders declared that Clinton had won the Democratic nominating process, a certain vision of how the revolution might have played out effectively died.

By running for president on a platform of political revolution, Sanders was, whether explicit or not, suggesting that he could help to lead that revolution, or at the very least work to make it a reality by serving as president. Now, the revolution that might have been if Sanders had won the White House won’t come to pass.

As our reader notes, that doesn’t mean there won’t still be revolution. At its heart, the political revolution that Sanders promoted aspires to wrest power away from wealthy elites and restore it to ordinary Americans. Whether that can be achieved may very well hinge on what supporters of the campaign do next, and if they succeed in organizing to elect populist progressive candidates across the country.

Efforts to ensure that the revolution won’t fade away have already started to unfold. Bernie has endorsed a crop of candidates running for Congress and state legislature seats. He has promised to shortly announce “the creation of successor organizations to carry on the struggle.” Sanders supporters are also actively working to carry on the revolution. Brand New Congress is one example.

Still, all this points to a central tension of the Sanders campaign. Sure, Bernie said it wasn’t about him. But for so many of his loyal followers, he has been the source of inspiration for political engagement. Sanders is poised to continue agitating for a revolution. But it remains to be seen how much the so-called revolution’s energy and enthusiasm can be sustained once the campaign has reached an end.


I figured our Clinton-Sanders discussion thread in Notes would have ended with Clare’s note about the “end of the [Sanders] political revolution,” but never underestimate the Clintons’s ability to attract controversy. The latest scandal within the Dem establishment is again over emails, this time with WikiLeaks revealing how DNC officials regularly discussed how to undermine the Sanders campaign. Many Atlantic readers are sounding off over the bombshell news. This one doesn’t have much sympathy for Sanders:

Everything about the emails was both stupid and wrong, but can we still give it some context? Mr. Sanders is a brand new Dem and not a particularly loyal or supportive one. His campaign and supporters have initiated about a kazillion lawsuits against the party he just joined, slamming the rules that were in place long before he used the party to run. (For goodness sake, Tad Devine [a top Sanders advisor, was instrumental in creating] the Super Delegate policy.)

Bernie does not ordinarily support many Dem candidates and has been saying for decades that they are very close to being one in the same with the GOP. He excused unseemly behavior at a state convention, and in the past he tried to get a candidate to run against Obama—the head of the Party. Even the most ardent Bernie supporter recognizes that he usually disdains being a team player in every way that traditionally sustains a political party.

The DNC needs some seriously reworking, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz [outgoing DNC chair and the national co-chair for Clinton in 2008] should indeed step aside and apologize, but acting shocked over these emails seems rather naive.

But this reader isn’t buying that argument:

Please. The emails show that the members of the DNC violated their own rules of governance.

A reader finds the nomination of the first female U.S. presidential candidate bittersweet:

What Hillary Clinton has done is no different than what women in Pakistan [Benazir Bhutto], India [Indira Gandhi], Bangladesh [Khaleda Zia], and Argentina [Cristina Fernández de Kirchner] have done: follow their fathers or husbands into politics, and use their family name to become head of state. All of those countries got there first. How are they doing, overall, on women’s rights?

There is little correlation between the election of women in those countries and the lives of average women there. So it will be here. If Hillary Clinton’s story gives you a vicarious thrill, enjoy it. But that’s about all you’ll get. Whether it’s George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton, the selection of leaders who owe quite a bit to their families’ political history is a sign of parties bereft of ideas and a weakening democracy.

I would dearly love for a woman to be president. But it would be more meaningful if her political resume didn’t begin with someone else’s. Elizabeth Warren is a far better example to America’s young women that anyone can rise from average beginnings to become a leader.

Your thoughts? Drop us a note. Update from two readers who defend Clinton. Here’s Rebecca:

Here in Maine, we have another example, a woman much like Hillary: GOP Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman elected to the Senate—an earlier glass ceiling. (Chase Smith also ran for president [in 1964], but her first in the Senate is more to my point here.) Smith was appointed and then elected to her husband’s legislative seat prior to running for and winning her seat in the Senate on her own merits. As a freshman Senator, she stood up to McCarthy. Her accomplishments paved the paths of [Maine Senators] Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.