In the short-term, accusing party elites of unfairly intervening in the political process might have a political payoff. It will likely motivate die-hard Sanders supporters to volunteer or donate money. And it could help Sanders gain leverage in the lead up to the Democratic National Convention. Fearful of the party being torn apart, party leaders may be more deferential to Sanders’s demands in the hope that he will ultimately help broker peace. There are already indications that the senator is starting to get his way. On Monday, The Washington Post reported that Sanders has been “given unprecedented say over the Democratic Party platform,” noting that party officials have permitted him to name five people to the “15-member committee that writes the platform.”
But in the long-term, the same strategy could undermine Sanders’s goal of creating a lasting political movement. If the campaign suggests the primary election has not proceeded fairly, its supporters may give up on the idea that political reform is even possible. The Boston College political science professor David Hopkins describes the risk this way: “Complaints about a rigged system may breed more apathy and cynicism than motivation to remain productively active in party politics,” he wrote in an analysis of the Nevada convention. “If the lesson drawn by Sanders and his supporters from the 2016 nomination race is ‘the fix is in’ rather than ‘good start—let’s get ’em next time,’ it will be harder to sustain momentum for their agenda within the Democratic Party and the electoral arena more broadly past the end of this campaign.”
Plus, the campaign could lose credibility if it makes claims that ultimately seem unfounded. Politifact awarded a “false” rating to allegations that the Nevada convention had been tainted by misconduct. And in the past week, the campaign appeared to undercut its own argument that it has not been treated fairly by the Democratic establishment. In December, Weaver told supporters the DNC had put “its thumb on the scales in support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” But during the CNN interview in which he accused Wasserman Schultz of “throwing shade,” Weaver suggested the problem was personal, not institutional. “It's not the DNC. By and large, people in the DNC have been very good to us. Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is the exception,” Weaver said. If the campaign sends mixed messages as it engages in the feud, that could divert the attention of supporters away from its big-picture ambition.
The campaign has also opened itself up to criticism over its superdelegate strategy. Sanders called for “a serious discussion about the role of superdelegates,” a group of party elites and elected officials who can support either Democratic candidate, in a CNN interview this weekend. “The current situation is undemocratic,” he said. “It is ill-advised, and it needs to change.” But he seemed to hold out hope that superdelegates may still side with him, even if he does not win the most pledged delegates. The campaign has previously suggested it will fight for superdelegate support even if Sanders loses the popular vote, a strategy that has led to headlines like “Bernie Sanders’s Undemocratic Plan to Win the Primary.” Pronouncements that the campaign is willing to pursue an undemocratic strategy could hurt the candidate’s credibility with voters, whose loyalty he will need if he wants to make long-term progress on his policy ideals.