Posted Friday morning, January 6, 2017.
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And I’m not exactly feeling it.
But I am coming around to thinking Bernie might very well have won.
I know some of you know he would have won. You’ve known it all along. But you don’t know it. Or, rather, you know it in the way Catholics know the bread and wine become flesh and blood. It’s an article of faith. A basic tenet. Which is to say you believe he would have won. But your believing it, no matter how fervently and no matter how right it feels to you, isn’t a reason anyone else should believe it. I don’t believe it. But like I said, I’m coming around to thinking you might be right.
I think he would have carried Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Probably Iowa. Possibly Florida. Maybe even Ohio, as well.
But not because all those white working class Democrats who voted for Obama and switched to Trump would have voted for him for the simple reason there weren’t that many of them. At least, there doesn’t seem to have been enough of them that they were the critical difference. Consider this.
In each of the three key states---Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania---Trump got fewer votes than President Obama did in 2012.
What there were more of, it appears, were white working class voters who voted for Obama and black and Hispanic voters and younger voters and Independents who leaned Democrat who stayed home, costing not just Clinton the Presidency but Russ Feingold and Katie McGinty Senate seats, and possibly more than a few Democrats lower down on the ticket House and state legislature seats. I think that fewer of them would have stayed home if Bernie was the nominee.
Of course, it matters why they stayed home. In Wisconsin some of them didn’t stay home because they chose to. They stayed home because they weren’t going to be allowed to vote. Voter suppression really is an “under-reported” story of the election. But it was registered voters who stayed home who did the damage. Many of them just didn’t like Clinton and didn’t see how Trump could be much worse. More fools them. Some of them stayed home, though, because they believed along with just about everybody else, that she had the election won and didn’t need their votes. Bernie might have faced the same problem getting their votes. On the other hand, maybe more of them would have been excited enough to come out to vote anyway because they wanted to be part of the race rather than spectators at the finish line.
Independents liked him better than they did HRC. I think that includes not just Democratic leaning Independents but actually independent Independents. Bernie is, after all, an actual independent himself (although not so fussy a one that he’s above relying on support from the Democratic Party in Vermont). So however many Independents there were among the stay at home I think it’s safe to think a good number of them have come out for Bernie.
Something else though.
Bernie would have tried harder to get all those stay at homes to come out. He’d have been up there in Michigan and Wisconsin and over in Iowa campaigning in a way she didn’t. He wouldn’t have taken Michigan and Wisconsin for granted or written off Iowa. I don’t think he’d have written off Ohio either. He’d have needed those votes and wanted those votes. He’d have wanted them because they’re an important part of his ideal coalition. He’d have needed them because he couldn’t have counted on African American and Hispanic voters. This gets at why he didn’t win the nomination. Which wasn’t because the system was rigged or because the Democratic National Committee sabotaged his campaign or fixed it for Hillary. And it wasn’t because unfair rules kept Independents from voting in some state’s primaries. Kind of ridiculous, anyway, to argue that a political party should arrange it so that people from another party can decide the party’s nominee and write its platform. Why have a party if party members don’t get to pick their candidates? But the fact is Bernie had a large pool of voters to draw from who were registered Democrats. The ones who didn’t vote in the primaries.
Bernie lost because 16.9 million Democrats voted for her in the primaries. Three million more than voted for him. But they weren’t the only Democrats in the country. Primary voters always constitute a minority of the party’s registered voters.
Doesn’t say much for the prospects for Bernie’s “Revolution” that he couldn’t get three million Democrats to come out to vote in their own party’s primaries.
But even within that minority who make up primary voters he should have done better. He did pretty well considering. But he didn’t really come close. And considering that most of us who didn’t vote for him agreed with him on almost every issue, it’s a question that needs a serious answer. Why didn’t more Democrats like me vote for him? Why didn’t I vote for him? Why wasn’t I ever even tempted?
If you think it’s because I’m a “centrist” or a “neo-liberal” then you don’t read this blog much or follow me on Twitter. If you think I was somehow duped by the DNC or I didn’t know the truth, then what are you doing wasting your time reading the blog of someone who doesn’t think for himself or do his homework?
I sincerely liked and admired Hillary. Still do. I wish she’d been a little more to left on some issues or made more of it where she was but on the whole I think she’s a good liberal Democrat. Please don’t bring up Bill. It’s now been sixteen years since he was President. Pay her the respect of acknowledging she’s her own person and can think for herself and hold positions that differ from her husband’s and that she’s grown and changed and learned over the years. But the fact is I thought she’d make a better President than Bernie. I still think so. So I was happy and proud to vote for her.
Maybe if you could have convinced me she was going to lose for sure and Berne would definitely win I’d have jumped ship. Don’t quote polls at me. This isn’t the best time to be basing your case on the polls. But the polls never showed that Hillary wouldn’t beat Trump. They showed that Bernie would beat him more handily. And it wasn’t unreasonable to think that things would change, that once the general campaign got underway and people got to know her she’d pick up support and that Trump having to face a serious opponent at last would lose ground or at least not gain any, which is what happened...almost. In the end, Trump received 46 percent of the popular vote, which is to say, 46 percent of the people who came out to vote voted for him. But if those stay at homes hadn’t stayed at home, he’d probably have been at the 44 percent he seemed destined for and she’d have come closer to 50 per cent or more.
As for Bernie being more electable, it also wasn’t unreasonable to think that once the general election got underway and he had to face the challenges and rigors of a national campaign and people got to know him his approval ratings would have taken a hit and he’d have lost some of his apparent support.
I don’t know how effective the inevitable “He’s a Commie” cries would have been, but Republicans would have “disapproved” of Bernie for the good old-fashioned Republican reasons they disapprove of anyone who promises to raise their taxes and spend their money on poor people. And those angry working class whites looking for someone to be angry on their behalf and shake things up in Washington might easily have decided to vote for the angrier guy who looked and acted more like that “bull in a china shop” those voters were supposedly hoping for. I thought and still think that if you convince people a Revolution is needed then they’ll go with the leader who strikes them as strong enough to break down the gates of the Bastille and haul the aristocrats to the scaffold with his own bare hands. Basically, then, I thought, Bernie would have gone about inadvertently making some of Trump’s case for him.
And things would have come out. Bernie isn’t as “scandal free” as his die-hard supporters would like to believe. But even if he was, the political media would have found “scandals” to report. They might have gone easier on him than they did on Hillary but their way of being easier on him might very well have been to ignore him or dismiss him, just as they did during the primaries. And there’s no reason to think they’d have gone any harder on Trump.
And I thought that Bernie wouldn’t wear well over time. He wasn’t wearing well during the primaries. As time went on and he was failing to catch up, he grew peevish, querulous, petty, and vindictive. He let his frustrations and resentments show. Which was in character. Bernie has a long history of alienating people who ought to have been his allies. He has a long history of alienating people who are his allies. Whatever argument there is against superdelegates, it’s telling that almost all of them went for Hillary. They’re the party’s professionals, the leaders and doers. Which makes them pragmatists. If anybody could have been persuaded Bernie was the more electable, it would have been them. That’s what happened in 2008. They went over to Obama because he struck them as a winner. But Bernie couldn’t convince even a hundred of them. And the reason is that they didn’t see him as a good politician. Good as being able to work and play well with other politicians and party activists in ways that get things done.
But it wasn’t really me and the likes of me and our concerns that kept me skeptical about Bernie and that should be troubling to Bernie and his supporters as they try to figure out why he didn’t win the nomination. It’s all those voters Bernie himself dismissed and dissed as being part of “the Confederacy.”
Not the most sensitive way to talk about African Americans.
No, I’m not calling Bernie a racist. But he was stunningly tone-deaf in his appeals to black Democrats. Actually, he didn’t try to appeal to them so much as demand their support. Again, that’s in character. He does that with everyone regardless of color.
He wasn’t going to win the general election if black voters stayed home because he couldn’t get over his habit of pissing them off.
He had similar trouble with Hispanics. And if people of color didn’t turn out for him, he wasn’t going to win Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, or even New Mexico. His electoral map would have looked like John Kerry’s instead of Barack Obama’s..
Of course they would have turned out. Unlike a certain cohort of white liberal voters, they know better than to let personal resentments and self-flattering “principles” cause them to sabotage their cause. And they have a longstanding tradition of not expecting politicians to be saints. They know how to forgive and make allowances, fortunately for Democrats, particularly white Democrats.
Bernie would have gotten their votes, despite himself.
Same goes for grown-up women of all colors and LGBT people whose interests and concerns he also dismissed and for those of us rank and file Democrats he more or less accused of being stupid or corrupt for supporting a warmongering tool of Wall Street instead of his pure and noble self.
And this gets back to why I’m thinking Bernie would have won. He’d probably have gotten the votes of everybody who voted for Hillary plus a few more, and not just those stay at homes.
Because here’s the other thing.
In Pennsylvania, Gary Johnson got 146,715 votes; Jill Stein got 49,941. In Wisconsin, Johnson got 106,674 votes; Stein got 31,072. In Michigan Johnson got 172,136 votes; Stein got 51,463. I should check, but I expect most of Johnson’s votes were Republicans and conservative Independents who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. But a lot of them were Democrats and liberals. And it’s probable that very, very, very few of Stein’s voters were Republicans.
The vast majority of Bernie’s supporters voted for Hillary. But I’m guessing that virtually none of Hillary’s voters would have been naive enough, self-important enough, or just plain dumb enough to vote for Johnson or Stein for reason of “conscience” or to send a “message” or because they didn’t feel like they weren’t given enough of a special invitation.
If you want to check that I have in fact done the homework, see: "Registered Voters Who Stayed Home Probably Cost Clinton The Election" at FiveThrityEight. Hat tip to Oliver Mannion.
Photo courtesy of Bernie Sanders himself via his Facebook page.