Earlier today, I observed that if Bernie Sanders wins this Tuesday’s closed Democratic primary in Kentucky, “Sanders and his supporters will likely take advantage of a win here to promote the idea that there are still plenty of Democrats who aren’t comfortable with Clinton, and that the ‘Democratic establishment’ should agree to all of his demands at the Democratic convention even if he ultimately fails to win the nomination.” Speaking of primaries and the convention, what if Sanders manages to do the seemingly impossible, and actually pulls off an upset victory over Clinton in the June 7 California primary?
It is unlikely that Sanders would be able to defeat Clinton by a significant margin in the Golden State primary (which is open to Democrats and those who have no stated party preference), which means that even if he also wins (by presumably close margins) the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and North Dakota caucuses and the Oregon, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and District of Columbia primaries, he will still come up short in the pledged delegate count. However, a victory in California, even by a close margin, would provide political momentum to Sanders and his supporters going into Philadelphia, where the self-professed democratic socialist plans to ask superdelegates to, in essence, void the votes of those who supported Clinton and declare him the Democratic nominee. MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki explained Sanders’s apparent thinking Tuesday night:
Sanders would certainly have the right to make his case to those superdelegates–but how strong of a case would that be? As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes suggested on May 11, the argument that Sanders should be declared the nominee because he currently performs better than Clinton in head-to-head polls against Donald Trump is rather questionable (it certainly doesn’t factor in the power of the right-wing noise machine).
I wouldn’t be surprised if Team Sanders tries to convince superdelegates that he would perform better against Trump in the general-election debates than Clinton would: Trump’s presence will guarantee that the debates will be ratings bonanzas, and the argument that the Democratic candidate must thoroughly dismantle the bigoted billionaire in these debates is compelling. However, can anyone seriously argue that Clinton cannot hold her own in debates?
I fear that the case for awarding the Democratic nomination to Sanders rests upon a dynamic that Paul Krugman explained a few weeks ago:
As I see it, the Sanders phenomenon always depended on leaving the personal attacks implicit. Sanders supporters have, to a much greater extent than generally acknowledged, been motivated by the perception that Clinton is dishonest, which comes — whether they know it or not — not from her actual behavior but from decades of right-wing smears; but Sanders himself got to play the issue-oriented purist, in effect taking a free ride on other peoples’ character defamation. There was plenty of nastiness from Sanders supporters, but the candidate himself seemed to stay above the fray.
But it wasn’t enough, largely because of nonwhite voters. Why have these voters been so pro-Clinton? One reason I haven’t seen laid out, but which I suspect is important, is that they are more sensitized than most whites to how the disinformation machine works, to how fake scandals get promoted and become part of what “everyone knows.” Not least, they’ve seen the torrent of lies directed at our first African-American president, and have a sense that not everything you hear should be believed.
What will Sanders say to voters of color who overwhelmingly supported Clinton, and who will obviously feel shafted if Sanders is successful in convincing superdelegates to hand the nomination over to him? I imagine that Sanders will simply quote Warren Beatty’s remarks to aggrieved African-American churchgoers in Bulworth: “So what are you gonna do, vote Republican? Come on! Come on, you’re not gonna vote Republican!”
If Sanders wins the California primary, even by a small margin, he will have earned the right to petition superdelegates for a redress of his grievances. However, something tells me that after he does so, he’ll still have grievances.
UPDATE: More from Rachel Maddow and Brad Friedman.
SECOND UPDATE: More from MSNBC.