What Happened to the Revolution?

Not too long ago, all the talk about the Democratic presidential primary focused on two issues: electability and theories of change. On the latter, the Sanders case was that he would ignite a revolution that would overthrow the monied interests that currently control both the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.

Now, with Clinton’s commanding lead in the popular vote as well as elected delegates, Bernie Sanders is making an interesting case for why he should stay in the race. It starts with a suggestion that the primaries are now moving into states that are more favorable to him. Here is what Sanders told Rachel Maddow last night:

Well here’s the scenario. Secretary Clinton has done phenomenally well in the deep south and she has picked up a whole lot of delegates there. We are now moving beyond the south. We are moving west where we think the terrain favors us. West coast is probably the most progressive region of the united states of America. We think we have a good shot, can’t guarantee it, of winning a whole lot of states of winning a whole lot of delegates. Of perhaps winning California, the state of Washington, Oregon, many of the smaller states, and winning new York state.

Of course, this is the campaign that also predicted that, based on winning Michigan, they would win in states like Ohio – which didn’t happen. And as Nate Silver points out, in order to catch up with Clinton, Sanders would have to win these states by something like 16 points.

But the truth is, Sanders isn’t counting on catching up with Clinton.

We think if we come into the convention in July in Philadelphia having won a whole lot of delegates, having a whole lot of momentum behind us, and most importantly perhaps being the candidate who is most likely to defeat Donald Trump. We think some of these super delegates who have now supported Hillary Clinton can come over to us.

In other words, Sanders is counting on momentum as an electability argument in a case he will make to win over superdelegates. There are two problems with that strategy. First of all, Sanders points to polls that have tended to show him doing better than Clinton in a general election match-up with Trump. The reason why most people dismiss those polls at this stage of the race is that no one on the Republican side has even started to unleash their attacks on Sanders – because they all assume that Clinton will be the nominee. In the unlikely event that changes, he can expect withering attacks that will likely have an impact.

But beyond the electability argument, it is interesting what this strategy says about the Sanders’ theory of change. If his path to the nomination depends on winning over the support of superdelegates, it is important to note what his supporters were saying about that initially. Steve Benen captured this quote from MoveOn in February.

MoveOn.org Political Action and a group of backers of White House hopeful Bernie Sanders have launched petitions calling for superdelegates to support the candidate chosen by Democratic voters, not party insiders.

Ilya Sheyman, the group’s executive director, in a statement Thursday said voters “will not allow Democratic Party insiders to determine the outcome of this election.” … “The race for the Democratic Party nomination should be decided by who gets the most votes, and not who has the most support from party insiders,” Sheyman said.

To the extent that a Sanders strategy for winning the Democratic nomination rests on swinging the support of “party insiders,” what does that say for the prospects of a revolution?

One of the reasons many of the party insiders didn’t support Sanders is because he basically accuses them of being bought and paid for by Wall Street/corporate donations. If, as he suggests, they would be willing to switch their support to him based on his projection of momentum in the coming primaries, doesn’t that undermine the accusations he has made about them?

One of the things Bernie Sanders has had going for him is that he is not a typical politician. But this “win at all costs” strategy he is promoting undermines that claim and acknowledges that there will be no revolution.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.