What’s Bernie Thinking? His Present Strategy Doesn’t Make Sense to Me.

What’s Bernie Thinking? His Present Strategy Doesn’t Make Sense to Me.


I am now perplexed about what Bernie Sanders is doing.

I write as someone who would have liked for Bernie to have prevailed over Hillary in the contest for the nomination—but also as one who regards the question of the nominee as settled: Hillary has won it.

But lately Bernie has been talking about how he is going to win the nomination by persuading enough superdelegates to abandon Hillary and support him at the convention. Does he really think that could happen? That scenario seems totally implausible to me.

Never, since the superdelegate system was created, have those party regulars overridden the choice of the voters. And by every plausible scenario I have seen, Hillary will enter the convention having received more votes, and having more pledged delegates, than Bernie.

But even without the weight of such precedent, it is hard to imagine that the superdelegates – the representatives of the party establishment – would readily reject the establishment candidate in order to nominate someone whose rhetoric has continually attacked “establishment politics.”

As Kos put it in a recent piece:

You can rail against the establishment all cycle and sue the Democratic Party. It was good politics! It won him lots of votes! But then don’t expect that very same establishment to bail you out. If you go to war against them, you must beat them on the electoral battlefield. And it can be done! Because Barack Obama did it in 2008. And if the supers wouldn’t bail out Clinton that year, when Clinton was on the losing end, why would they turn on her this year, when she’s on the winning end?

(I would say that while Obama was challenging the front-running establishment candidate, he was not a challenger to the Democratic Party establishment the way Bernie Sanders is.)

The assertion from the Sanders camp is that the polls show that Bernie would be the stronger candidate against Trump. But, as William Saletan has recently argued, “The problem with current polls that test Sanders against Trump or Cruz is that they don’t capture the effects of the fall campaign.” By which he means that the Republicans would launch a negative campaign against Sanders—attacking him in ways that plausibly can be argued would do him serious damage. In that article, whose title is “Polls Say Bernie is More Electable. Don’t Believe Them,” Saletan goes on to outline the formidable kinds of attacks to which Bernie could well be vulnerable.

I have previously proposed — in a piece titled “Why Bernie Should Draw Right-Wing Fire Now“, a strategy for Bernie to demonstrate his ability to withstand right-wing attacks prior to the convention. But he has not adopted any such strategy. That leaves the superdelegates having to stick with their original choice to support Hillary or to make a very high-stakes bet that strong arguments like Saletan’s are wrong. I see virtually no reason they would make any such high-risk bet.

It is hard for me to believe that Bernie himself credits this notion that the superdelegates might hand him the nomination. And if Bernie does recognize the utter implausibility of this notion, why is he proclaiming it?

This doesn’t seem like the right strategy for the circumstances and for the goals it still makes sense for Bernie to pursue.

I’m not in favor of Bernie stopping his campaign. I’m not in favor of his simply surrendering to the presumptive nominee. He still has something important to accomplish: to use his genuine leverage to extract from Hillary those concessions he can that would best serve the movement and policies that Bernie has run in order to advance.

Bernie has leverage because how Bernie acts from here until Election Day, and especially what he says to his many followers, can have an important impact on Hillary’s strength in the fall campaign. She surely knows this, and so Hillary has good reason to yield what she must to get what she needs.

Just what concessions Bernie might wisely and reasonably seek, and how Bernie and Hillary might best conduct a kind of “negotiation” regarding the combination of such concessions that Hillary makes to Bernie with such forms of support that Bernie gives to Hillary, I will leave for a later piece.

But for now, my point is this: If what Bernie can now accomplish is not about winning the nomination but about influencing Hillary and the Democratic Party, how does Bernie’s present strategy of continuing to talk about pulling off a great political upset with the help of the superdelegates help him in that effort?

It doesn’t look like the most sensible or effective approach to me.

  • Joe Mancini

    What my fellow UofC alumnus is doing is opaque to me, too. From Hillary’s perspective, he is no longer a factor in her getting the nomination, and she needs to put no further effort in confronting him. There will be no more debates. She’s not running TV ads. She has the glide path vectored and Bernie can’t stop her.

    I do think Bernie’s funding, which is on the decline, will further dry up now that it’s obvious he doesn’t have a chance to win. Where he ends up with regards to the Democratic Party, either as a respected elder and a constructive influence or as a disruptive force, is up to him. I do hope he has the sense to make sure he can be part of the majority in the Senate and he does the right thing. Pipe dreams that he is going to flip superdelegates are fruitless.

  • Forest Jones

    Yesterday Trump locked down the Republican nomination. CA is a
    semi-open primary. California Republicans and Republican leaning
    independents will not need to vote since their nominee is already
    decided. If they decide they want to eliminate Clinton they can turn out
    to vote for Bernie in large numbers. If Bernie wins California by an
    enormous landslide, he could win the Democratic nomination June 7th!
    They have until May 23rd to register as a Democrat or Unaffiliated, then
    they will be allowed to vote.

  • notjohnsmosby

    It’s pretty simple – he likes the attention, and if he steps aside, he’ll very quickly end his time in the limelight.

    • Andy Schmookler

      He doesn’t have to step aside. He can continue to talk about the very important issues that led him into the race: 1) the plutocratic erosion of our democracy, 2) the economy that enriches the richest and leaves the rest behind, and 3) climate change. And he can also do some good by going after what the Republicans have been doing on all these issues. And he can also do good by expanding upon what he’s been saying about Donald Trump– since he’s the guy that he wants to take on in the fall, and since he’s the guy who must be defeated by whoever the nominee is.

      He can do all that, and get attention by playing a constructive role in the limelight.

      I don’t see anything constructive about spinning out scenarios regarding how the Democratic establishment is going to pass over Hillary and make him the nominee.

      • notjohnsmosby

        The point is, once he’s no longer a candidate – be that today, June 7th, or at the convention – no one is really going to pay him much attention beyond the hardcore supporters. He’ll become a Howard Dean for the most part, although even less popular with mainstream Dems than Dean.

        He won’t get many interviews, he won’t get any donations. He can go back to being a separatist in the Senate until he retires/dies in a few years.

        • Andy Schmookler

          Again, I’m not saying he should stop being a candidate. He should continue being a candidate, campaigning in the remaining states, and saying things that advance his cause– and also advance what he says he’s committed to: namely making sure that we do not end up with a President Trump.

  • Quizzical

    The way I see it, the super delegates are part of the nomination system, and if Bernie is going to stay in the race he should compete for them too. Whether he has a persuasive case to make is a different question.

    As for his judgment to keep fighting to the end, I can see a rational purpose for it. Let the his supporters vote and demonstrate their strength of numbers. Why would he take that away from them?