Reporter's Notebook

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

Show 5 Newer Notes

What Should Bernie Do Now?

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.

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. 

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.”

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

A few readers stand up for Clinton. The first:

With regard to Hillary versus Bernie, one thing that people tend not to be factoring in is that Bernie has not faced serious attacks. The back and forth between Clinton and Bernie is basically kids gloves.

For better or worse, Hillary is a known quantity. Her past has been well hashed out, and although it’s quite possible that more stuff can be dug up, I'm not sure how likely it is. Sanders, on the other hand? He has 40 years worth of statements and positions that will, relatively speaking, be news to the vast majority of people. There has been no Swift Boats, or Rev. Wrights, or even pastel suits!

The other reader:

In your latest note about the electability of Clinton and Sanders, you asked Clinton fans to name her biggest accomplishment. Politico already asked that question, and they got responses from some pretty high-profile Clinton supporters. In my mind, the best answers are: pioneering SCHIP as first lady and secretary of state, authoring the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table for its nuclear program, brokering a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and guiding the passage of the New START treaty with Russia.

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Evan Vucci / Reuters

A reader keeps the debate going:

For me the only question of any import is which candidate is more likely to win the general election. If the Republicans win the presidency they will probably control Congress as well. I cannot underscore enough what an enormous disaster I think this would be for our nation. Given that a Democratic president is unlikely to be able to make any new policy except via executive action, I truly do not care who the Democratic nominee is as long as they win. They MUST win.

And I don’t think Bernie can. He does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans. We know that swing voters aren’t policy oriented people. If they didn’t vote from the gut, they wouldn't be swing voters! I can’t see those voters trusting a man who intentionally cultivates an image as angry and unprofessional. Bernie presents the image of a nutty professor as part of demonstrating that he’s reliably socialist. The tradeoff is that, judging by looks alone, he appears to be a nut, and a significant part of swing voters will make their decisions on that factor alone! Given how close elections are, the “bad hair factor” doesn’t need to be very large to cost us the election.

The reader claims that Bernie “does worse than Hillary in head-to-head comparisons to Republicans,” but I’m not so sure that’s true, at least regarding the GOP’s decisive frontrunner. According to polling averages from RealClearPolitics, Bernie leads Trump by the same margin as Hillary leads Trump—44 to 42. And according to The Huffington Post’s averages, Bernie leads Trump 49 to 42 while Hillary only leads Trump 48 to 44.5. The primaries haven’t even started yet, of course, and Election Day is still ten months away, but Bernie seems like he could be just as strong in the general election as his more centrist Democratic rival. Update: The reader below, Matt, bolsters my point even further:

That comment from the guy who says Bernie loses head-to-head matchups against any Republican? Maybe 18 months ago, but the latest polling on RCP has Sanders beating every Repub while Clinton only beats most. (Cruz for some reason has big numbers in Iowa, but it must just be his turn.) So Sanders has the advantage over Clinton in every hypothetical race (see attached screencap from RCP).

This stuff is not exactly science, but it is illustrative. The Clinton Inevitablity/Electability narrative is half-myth, half-Beltway insider consensus. Nobody is inevitable, Clinton least of all (*cough 2008 cough*).

That reader, in his original email, scrutinizes the Clinton narrative in great detail:

My name is Matt. You posted my thoughts about the merits of online dating for a discussion thread you ran several months back. Today I have more comments on another subject near and dear to people of my general age and political persuasion: Bernie Sanders. I wanted to respond to the individual who wrote the topmost email in this note. The reader ultimately misstates the nature of Clinton’s appeal while ignoring that her apparent positives—steadiness, competence, a legislative record to run on, realism, pragmatism, political and bureaucratic mastery, etc—are actual aspects of Sanders’ legislative accomplishments.

People like Hillary for a variety of reasons—her competence, her formidable knowledge and recall of geopolitics, her decades of hard-won relationships in Washington that could theoretically be leveraged into real legislative accomplishments. I too have met her; I found her warm and engaging, if a little humorless and kind of a hard ass. But I have also met Sanders (I interned for him in college) and found him much the same.

The argument I’m not buying, and never will, is the “she’ll by gosh get things done” canard. This is a problematic argument for two reasons.