A major theme of this year's primary season has been that the system is rigged. Although the accusation has been leveled at both parties, it's the Democrats who have been most specifically accused of rigging the game against Bernie Sanders. With the release of stolen emails from the hacked computers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), those accusations rose to the pitchforks and torches level and led to the resignation and effective disappearing of Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. But the question remains, did DNC tampering create a difference that changed the outcome of the contest?
I say no.
I'm not going to get into the guilt or or not of the DNC or any other people involved in vote counting at any of the various places around the country where shenanigans were called. For the purposes of this analysis, let's just assume that all the accusations are true. Had none of it happened, Bernie would still have lost.
Calling the Sanders campaign a longshot when it began was generous. Clinton had about an 80 point lead just about anywhere you looked. Nevertheless, Bernie DID have a base from which to begin. He's had a consistent political philosophy since he first engaged in activism in the early 60s and never wavered in his message. He's been on the right side of most of the major issues since first entering congress in 1991. For the better part of a decade he has made the rounds on liberal talk radio, featuring on a long-running segment called Brunch with Bernie on the Thom Hartmann Radio Program. He has most significantly been a favorite on college campuses across the country his entire tenure. His base was young, liberal college students, of which there are many.
In order to do well for a start, Bernie needed to assure his base turned out on election day. Typically, young voters are known to be fairly lazy even though registration windows are long and early voting through a variety of means is available in most states. The exception to the low youth turnout was Barack Obama in 2008. Bernie knew going in that he would need to have similar numbers to have a shot at Hillary's lead and name recognition.
Secondly, he needed to make serious inroads into Hillary's base among African-Americans. Those voters constitute nearly 30% of the Democratic primary vote, so it's a must for any serious contender to be well-represented.
Finally, he had to know the rules as well as or better than Hillary. The Democratic party primaries is a chaotic mess of quirky individual state and sometimes county rules regarding when and how to vote, when to count, and what determines final delegate totals.
All of these factors require a top-notch high energy staff and ground game to get the message out and get the voters in. When all was said and done, Bernie failed badly on all three counts and STILL nearly won the nomination.
Very simply, the kids didn't show up in nearly the numbers hoped for and nowhere close to what Obama pulled in '08. That failure became clear even in the euphoria of the near-win in the first contest in college student-rich Iowa. Had there been a turnout in the same range as '08, Bernie would have had huge win instead of merely shocking the nation by coming within a point of victory. This trend stayed true throughout the process. Turnout was good but it needed to be great.
Bernie failed miserably when it came to attracting African-American votes. The story of his early years in the civil rights movement was appreciated but there didn't seem to be much in the way of direct action since he'd been in Congress. For Bernie's part, his method was to work for economic justice as a means to assure the rise of blacks in American society. But today, the focus is more on institutional justice. It took Bernie a while to understand the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement and the toll taken by mass incarceration in the private prison industry and the drug war on young lives, primarily young black men.
The tell that Bernie had failed here was in the rousting he received in the fourth primary in South Carolina. This drubbing was followed quickly by much of the same throughout the South. He lost the black votes by as much as 70 points when he needed to come within 15 to be able to claim cutting down that advantage.
And finally, Nevada showed his people didn't fully grasp the complexities of the rules. A simpler version of the lack of rule mastery occurred in New York when millions of potential voters went unregistered in the closed primary because the campaign was not aware of the very early deadline, a rule in New York that went back to the late 1800s.
It's likely that all of this went down as it did because in the early stages Bernie had no realistic expectation to do as well as he did. As a result he kept his simple basic economic message and never beefed up and expanded into other issues. By the time he needed a broader outreach, it was already too late.
The "rigging" of the DNC would have made the difference of a few points and hence only a handful of delegates in the states where it happened. But this was nothing against the big losses Bernie suffered in many states because of failed minority outreach, lack of youth registration, or turnout. He needed to run a perfect campaign. He did not.
Bernie talks in terms of "a political revolution" which emanates from within the confines of the Democratic Party. He didn't necessarily envision it simply as himself winning the White House. He wanted to regain a place for liberals and progressives in their traditional party, where the Clinton movement had taken it firmly to the center. To accomplish that, Bernie wanted to win seats at the table and increase membership rolls for young liberal activists who were going to be around a long time and who are to come into their own demographically by the end of the decade.
Knowing the difficulty of new parties or even growing minor already-existing parties, Bernie has advocated that his supporters stay in the party even though the DNC appears to be as rotten as a worm-eaten old wooden boat. He argues for determination and focus for the long haul in order to wrest control from the centrists and spread the liberal message across the country, where it received such an unexpectedly positive reception. And he argues that none of it will be possible if the Republicans are allowed to retake the White House and control the future of the Supreme Court.
To Bernie's experienced mind, the only chance to reignite the progressive spirit which built and sustained the middle class and finally began the still unfinished work of the Civil Rights, Women's Rights, and Gay Rights movement, is for his supporters to lick their wounds and get back to work.
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