As much as Americans want to talk about Michelle Obama’s address at the virtual Democratic National Convention’s first day, it was Bernie Sanders’ whose message could prove to be the most poignant.
Sanders, who dropped out of the presidential running several months ago and is now throwing his weight behind former vice president Joe Biden, is trying to insure 2020 is not a repeat of 2016.
Sanders took Democrats, his diehard supporters among them, out to the woodshed (literally, that was the backdrop for his 6-minute speech), and urged them to all vote for Biden, assuring an irrefutable landslide.
“Let me take this opportunity to say a word to the millions who supported my campaign this year and in 2016. … Together we have moved this country in a bold new direction showing that all of us — Black and white, Latino, Native American, Asian American, gay and straight, native-born and immigrant — yearn for a nation based on the principles of justice, love and compassion. Our campaign ended several months ago, but our movement continues and is getting stronger every day. Many of the ideas we fought for, that just a few years ago were considered ‘radical,’ are now mainstream. But let us be clear. If Donald Trump is re-elected, all the progress we have made will be in jeopardy.”
Why the concern? Because in 2016 the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, won the popular election by 2,868,686 votes but lost in the Electoral College.
Months later, Robert Wheel, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, wrote an article titled “Did Bernie Sanders Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency?”
It was a factor, he concluded. “In 2008 and 2012, Barack Obama won with potentially durable majorities, and all Clinton really needed to do was get the same voters to back a Democratic candidate for a third time. However, faced with the prospect of a crass and corrupt Republican nominee, she tried to broaden the Democratic electorate as much as possible instead of trying to consolidate Obama’s base, ignoring states in the ‘Blue Wall’ like Michigan and Wisconsin and diverting resources to areas she didn’t really need to win like Arizona and Georgia,” he wrote.
Without the Obama coalition, Democratic voters – many of them who had been uber-faithful to Sanders – couldn’t bear the thought of a Clinton presidency either. So the Sanders’ Effect played within four key groups: Sanders voters who voted for Trump (because they did not want to vote for Clinton); Sanders voters who voted for third parties (because they did not want to vote for Clinton or Trump); Sanders voters who decided not to vote; and non-Sanders voters who did not vote for Clinton, which was probably the largest bloc of uncommitted voters in key states that went to Trump.
Around the same time, Wheel’s piece was published, The Guardian had done its own analysis of the election: “Amid the recriminations, special attention is likely to be reserved for the pollsters, who showed Clinton clinging to a comfortable three- or four-point lead in national opinion polls going into the election. Granted, some ... flagged up the risk of an upset in key swing states, but even he had downgraded expectations of a Trump win to less than 30% on the eve of polling. ... The U.S. fortune tellers were particularly confused by the scrambled demographics of the 2016 election. Trump, in many ways, ran to Clinton’s left on some economic issues, with a populist appeal to a growing group of unaffiliated independent-minded voters, and yet analysts continued to assume that if registered Democrats were voting early, or telling pollsters they were going to vote, it meant a vote for Clinton.”
What no one had banked on was this “protest vote,” which is why Sanders made his plea Monday night: Voting in a two-party system should be about the best candidate to move the nation forward, not strategic voting to “send a message” to your own party in the General Election.
“In today’s presidential election system, the ability to govern has taken a back seat to the ability to get attention,” writes Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates.” “This is the only system in our society where there is no review by peers. If you were shopping for a brain surgeon, you would want someone who other brain surgeons said was qualified. But when we are shopping for a president, the opinion of those who have governed is no longer part of the process.”
For Sanders, the stakes are too high even if the political stripes vary.
“My friends, I say to you, to everyone who supported other candidates in the primary and to those who may have voted for Donald Trump in the last election: The future of our democracy is at stake,” Sanders said Monday night. “The future of our economy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake. We must come together, defeat Donald Trump and elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as our next president and vice president. My friends, the price of failure is just too great to imagine.”