How Bernie Changed the Game

The populist left may have earned a permanent role in the Democratic Party.

If one needed any additional evidence that Bernie Sanders has captured the imaginations and desires of a good chunk of the populist, progressive left, all you needed to do was listen to his speech Tuesday night as the California primary results were coming in. He was loud and boisterous, and his thousands-strong crowd was hanging on his every word. When Sanders pledged to continue the fight at the Democratic convention next month, the crowd went wild.  

Even the most passionate anti-Sandernista has to admit that the once fringe, white-haired loner from Vermont has shaken the Democratic Party to its core. Indeed, despite losing four out of six states last night—including a twelve-point loss in California, a state where the Vermont senator thought he had a chance in squeaking out a victory—Sanders appears to relish his role as an attack dog on Hillary Clinton’s left. The fact that Clinton became the first woman in U.S. history to win the nomination of a major party means nothing to him.

Bernie’s supporters are just as vehement about the “political revolution” as they were when the primary season started in Iowa. Summing up her interactions with Sanders supporters in California, Molly Ball of the Atlantic wrote that “Sanders and his people have their own sets of rules.” In their eyes, the Democratic primary is “rigged.”

There is clearly a lot of animosity in the Sanders camp. A large part of it is the realization that their candidate will not win the nomination and that the tens of millions of dollars in $27 donations were not enough to beat the Clinton political machine. Another part is a genuine anger towards anything and everything that reeks of “the establishment,” from the Democratic National Committee and its chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, to the very reporters who cover the presidential race.

Has Bernie’s political revolution died?

Electorally, yes. With Clinton’s wins in California, South Dakota, New Mexico, and New Jersey, Sanders would need to convince hundreds upon hundreds of superdelegates currently in Hillary’s column that he has a better shot at defeating Donald Trump in November. That case, needless to say, fails to take into account the results of the Democratic primary, where Secretary Clinton has won more states, more votes, and the majority of pledged delegates. For his strategy to succeed, Sanders would need a miracle bigger than the 1986 New York Mets.

Bernie’s “political revolution,” however, has the potential to outlast his presidential campaign and is certain to be far stronger than his final delegate count.  

Far from being a typical presidential candidate, Sanders has successfully transformed his campaign into a platform for challenging how the Democratic Party selects its nominees and does business during a presidential election year. Before Sanders announced his candidacy last spring, only the most inside-the-Beltway, inside-baseball politicos cared about the utility of superdelegates or the fairness of the closed-primary system. Now, thanks to Bernie, American voters—particularly those under the age of 40—are asking serious questions about whether independents should be shut out of the Democratic primary process in dozens of states.

Superdelegates—those party elites, politicians, and former politicians who are allowed to vote for a candidate regardless of how the people in their state vote—are increasingly being portrayed as a mechanism used by the Democratic Party to keep the masses in check and ensure that their favorite candidate eventually becomes the nominee. Whether or not that characterization is fair or not is beside the point: what is relevant is that Bernie’s bashing of the superdelegate system is making life uncomfortable for the DNC and directly challenging the way the party has conducted their delegate allocation process for about three and a half decades.

It’s unlikely that superdelegates, the closed-primary system, the delegate allocation process, and how the Democratic Party writes the platform would be issues if Sanders chose not to run. All of them are now under assault, forcing DNC members at the very least to consider changes during the next presidential cycle.

Sanders may have lost the primary, but the political revolution that he has built up and led over the past year has been victorious in raising some of the issues that the Democratic Party would likely have ignored were Jim Webb or Martin O’Malley the runner-up candidate.

Daniel R. DePetris is an analyst at Wikistrat, Inc., a geostrategic consulting firm and a freelance researcher. He has also written for CNN.com, Small Wars Journal and the Diplomat.

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19 Responses to How Bernie Changed the Game

  1. the unworthy craftsman says:

    Sanders has the impoverished grad students, who will be running the country in a couple of decades as the professionals and technocrats and administrators and professors and journalists of tomorrow. The Sanders campaign will come to be seen as an important failure that produced a cohort, like the McGovern campaign that bred the likes of Gary Hart.

  2. EliteCommInc. says:

    I am not a liberal of any kind. But if I were the mere integrity of the man to run a campaign on the issues and maintain a standard of fairplay — given the machine he is facing —

    He is a hands-down winner in my book.

    Bravo Sen Sanders for being light years of standards above your opponents.

    Fight on . . . integrity matters.

  3. Alex (the one that likes Ike) says:

    Bernie’s supporters are just as vehement about the “political revolution” as they were when the primary season started in Iowa. Summing up her interactions with Sanders supporters in California, Molly Ball of the Atlantic wrote that “Sanders and his people have their own sets of rules.” In their eyes, the Democratic primary is “rigged.”

    I’m obviously neither a Sanders’s supporter nor leftist or liberal, but it seems rigged to me as well. From the very start.

  4. Follow the money says:

    @the unworthy craftsman

    Bill Clinton got his start as a McGovernite. I personally see Sanders as basically the white male id of the Democrat party, the crusading white knights who seek to protect the weak (minorities of all stripes). My observation is that the straight white married Sanderite is more upset over DOMA than actual gays are upset over DOMA.

  5. Clint says:

    The Democrat Establishment staged a Democrat Primary phony race where Hillary Clinton was always going to be coronated, but Sanders and his supporters failed to play their losers role appropriately.
    The Democrat Establishment will eliminate the state caucus to make sure they further impede any future “Bernie”.

    The difference between The two Major Parties is that Trump and his supporters beat back every attempt to squash them by The GOP Establishment,while The Democrat Establishment always had Sanders and his supporters “Superdelegated” to defeat.

    Sanders and his supporters were set up to lose and that’s just what The Democrat Establishment just did to them.

  6. Kent says:

    What I like about Bernie Sanders is that he’s a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of guy.

  7. Danny K. says:

    @EliteCommInc – I have this general rule of thumb that works about 2/3 of the time. If someone is tooo nice, they’re acting. The rogues are usually some of the nicest, most honorable people if they let you into their circle.

    Google the stories about how Bernie treats his staff.

  8. Nelson says:

    Eh, populists. On the one hand, there’s enough to make a difference if they’re willing to work within the system. But on the other hand, they don’t want to work within the system.

    The “or bust” voters are the worst because they are too fickle to want to build something beyond one candidate. It’s as if they think we live in an elected dictatorship or something and all the non-presidential elected offices don’t matter.

  9. Fran Macadam says:

    Bernie and Donald haven’t changed the game. The game itself has changed, with much of the population realizing they are the ones being gamed by the establishment and its elites. Sanders and Trump have been the only viable political figures willing to be carried along by these changes and give expression to the popular will, the part of public opinion that is not manufactured by Wall Street’s ad agencies.

  10. Fran Macadam says:

    It doesn’t explain everything, but Sanders is the result of Occupy Wall Street betrayed, Trump that of the Tea Party co-opted. Populism stunted by elitism.

  11. EliteCommInc. says:

    “Google the stories about how Bernie treats his staff.”

    I am not sure , I will read the reference. But if someone told me that Sen Sanders is tough to work for, I would just laugh. I am not a fan of Sen. Sanders politics. But I appreciate his integrity, in my view he has chosen to take a deeply entrenched system.

    I respect that. I think I can do so without falling into a emotional mess about how tough and unreasonable he is in expecting his staff to do the impossible. So much of politics is about emotional energy as as opposed to policy. I just am not that politically atuned, or if I am I ignore it because it the least effective measure.

    My guess is that for Sen Sander’s heart, the pressure to make a difference exceeds, the niceties one might display otherwise. Some leaders, have varying styles and I would no be the least surprised to find he is a driver to the task at hand. My guess is that most of his staff get that, even if they are ruffled by it.

    Admittedly a response minus looking at the reference seems uncaring or premature. It is not intended to be a dismissal.

    The ultimate test here is whether being a woman outweighs merit. And the test is one of for whether we are a country capable of holding a woman accountable as an equal or does history once again outweigh —

    overcoming the emotional historical desire may once again rule our choices

    And that would be disappointing, to say the least. Already they are calling Sen Sanders a man attempting to avoid history — that’s not a very sound measure of how we select an executive.

  12. collin says:

    It’s unlikely that superdelegates, the closed-primary system, the delegate allocation process, and how the Democratic Party writes the platform would be issues if Sanders chose not to run.

    Party bickering on these rules always come up every Primary season but yes they appear to come a lot more this season. Unfortunately, it is in the Party and nominee interest to have a Primary system that is both democracy but also benefits the winner in the general election. However, Bernie actually benefited from some of Primary rules and the caucus state rules heavily benefited him in the race with his big wins in Washington and Utah delegates. Addtionally, if it won’t for Superdelegate nonsense Bernie’s path would have shrunk earlier not later. And on opposite end, the states with the most flexible mail-in votes (AZ, FL & CA) were huge HRC wins. (She still wins all three states but a smaller margin.)

    However, the reality was HRC won over 3.5M more votes and Bernie never really had a chance after losing both Nevada and very heavily in South Carolina. She won the Obama coalition in 2016.

  13. Reinhold says:

    “Superdelegates….are increasingly being portrayed as a mechanism used by the Democratic Party to keep the masses in check and ensure that their favorite candidate eventually becomes the nominee.”
    I read somewhere that the superdelegate system was instituted after the failure of the McGovern campaign, in order to give the party the last word and ensure an ‘electable’ (non-populist, establishment, whatever) candidate. So if that’s true, then the characterization is completely fair, because historically accurate.

  14. Reinhold says:

    “Sanders has the impoverished grad students, who will be running the country in a couple of decades as the professionals and technocrats and administrators and professors and journalists of tomorrow.”
    Sanders won the youth vote across class and racial lines. That means he won an entire generation of voters. You’d be flatly wrong to assume they’re all looking forward to cushy elite positions.

  15. philadelphialawyer says:

    “However, the reality was HRC won over 3.5M more votes and Bernie never really had a chance after losing both Nevada and very heavily in South Carolina. She won the Obama coalition in 2016.”

    Yes and no.

    The “rigged” process thing is non sense. Hillary beat Bernie by every conceivable way of measuring.

    But hers is a different coalition than Obama’s 08. Obama had the African Americans and the college kids and rich liberals. Hillary had everything else, including the poor whites.

    This time, Hillary had the African Americans, and the rich liberals, and pretty much everything she had last time, minus the poor whites. Bernie had the college kids. And the poor whites. Not enough.

    That’s why lost. Nobody stole anything. More Dem groups wanted Hillary (older voters, women, African Americans, Latinos, rich liberals, Asian Americans) than those that wanted Bernie (college kids, men, poor whites).

    Utterly predictable. Utterly unremarkable.

    The Dem primary process, with its congressional district-based proportionate delegate selection process, its caucuses, and the capacity, first shown by Dean in 04, built on by Obama in 08 and replicated by Sanders this go ’round, for the “insurgent” candidate to fund raise off the internet, means that any contested primary will probably become, as Obama said, with somewhat uncharacteristic political infelicity, but sort of accurately in a metaphorical way, as “like a Bataan death march.”

    The loser can go on and on, as long as can keep raising money. Which is what Sanders did.

  16. philadelphialawyer says:

    And the superdelegates have nothing to do with it. Hillary won the pledged delegate majority by winning the majority of the votes. The supers are REFUSING to overturn those majorities, which is what the “populist,” “man of the people” Bernie is asking them to do.

    The supers have NEVER taken the nomination from the candidate with the majority of the pledged delegates.

  17. H.L. VanBuren says:

    “The supers have NEVER taken the nomination from the candidate with the majority of the pledged delegates.”

    They don’t have to. With the media counting them from day one they gave the impression that Clinton was inevitable even before the Iowa Caucus took place.

    It’s time to dump this arcane system that gives lobbyists and party insiders the power of kingmakers.

  18. philadelphialawyer says:

    “They don’t have to. With the media counting them from day one they gave the impression that Clinton was inevitable even before the Iowa Caucus took place.”

    Most of the media either did NOT include the Supers at all, or, at most, made the distinction clear. And the DNC asked them not to include them. It is not Hillary’s fault if the media chooses to NOT ignore reality.

    “It’s time to dump this arcane system that gives lobbyists and party insiders the power of kingmakers.”

    I have no problem with dumping them.

    But, Hillary won not because of lobbyists and party insiders, but because she wrapped herself up in Obama’s legacy. Strange as it may seem to some here, most Democrats are happy with Obama. And African American Democrats especially.

    The media treated Hillary as “inevitable” because she was inevitable. She consistently polled ahead of Bernie among Dem primary voters, before Iowa and after. She consistently won more of the Dem voter groups than Bernie once the contests got going. And, starting no later than South Carolina, it was clear that she was going to destroy Bernie (who had been critical of Obama and actually called for him to be primaried in 2012) among African Americans.

    And, the way the pledged delegate allocation system works, once you fall behind, even by what doesn’t seem like a lot, you basically have no chance of winning. This is what happened in 2008 to Hillary. Obama took the AA vote and won SC; Hillary fell behind, and then she could never catch up, despite winning most of the big states.

    And the supers supposedly painting her as inevitable did not help her then. Because Obama had the pledged delegate lead Even though the contest was much closer than it is now, and even though Hillary arguably had the popular vote lead, Even though Hillary was the insider. Even though many of the Supers owed her and/or Bill political favors. And even though many of them had previously agreed to support Hillary.

    The Supers are not going to override the pledged delegate lead absent some compelling reason.

    Bernie simply did not win enough votes from among enough different Dem primary voter groups to pull off the same upset as Obama did. Why is that so hard to accept? Most Dems prefer Hillary to Bernie. That’s why she won more and bigger primaries, and that’s why she won the pledged delegates. The supers were superfluous.

  19. philadelphialawyer says:

    If anything, Bernie compromised his mostly accurate “rigged” economy claims by conflating them with his mostly BS claims of a “rigged” primary process.

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