Democratic Party

Sanders Supporters May Lose the Presidency Today, but Win the Party

Even as Clinton reaches the delegate threshold, the Dems attempt to cater.


Clinton and Sanders
ABC/Disney / Flickr

The two men in the back of the pick-up truck in Culver City, California, yesterday yelling their support of Bernie Sanders to passing traffic probably are not dissuaded by the Associated Press' calculation last night that Hillary Clinton has the necessary delegates to clinch the nomination. Their man, Sanders, isn't accepting defeat, either, pointing out that superdelegates are putting Clinton over the top, and they don't really, truly count until the convention.

Sanders is technically accurate while, you know, probably going to be wrong. There is a chance that Sanders could actually win California today. All the latest polls have Clinton ahead by just two points, and there's been a surge of new voter registrations in a state that has seen voter participation plunge recently. Sanders played to large rally crowds in California. But California is not a winner-take-all state. They're distributed based on congressional districts. Even if Sanders wins, Clinton is probably going to come out of the state with additional delegates. Sanders may close the gap, but the path to beating her is hard to visualize.

Back in March, I theorized that California's primary could actually matter to Republicans this year, because it represented the possibility of Donald Trump reaching his delegate threshold. But then all of Trump's competitors imploded. With Sanders performing better than expected, there was again an increased possibility that California would still actually matter, but this time on the Democratic side.

The AP's declaration on the eve before six primaries seems to again declare California (and New Jersey—where Clinton has a huge poll lead) again irrelevant, but Sanders is saying he's going to stay in the race up until the convention. And why shouldn't he? He is tapping into a significant frustration among leftist voters that could help shape what the Democratic Party stands for moving forward.

Reason predicted something like the Sanders movement happening back prior to the last midterm election in 2014. We started seeing the fissures earlier with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but the real preview was likely Zephyr Teachout's challenge to Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary for New York's governor. Teachout managed to grab 34 percent of the vote running far to the left of Cuomo (she has subsequently endorsed Sanders).

Emma Roller at the New York Times has a piece today asking Sanders supporters what they're going to do given the likelihood that Clinton is going to get the nomination. It does seem likely that many will, if reluctantly, line up to pull the lever for Clinton.

Clinton has been rather savvy in not dismissing the concerns of the Sanders supporters. Part of her counterargument to Sanders during debates is that she would be better situated, given her experience, to actually put liberal policies into place. And when the movement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour became too loud to ignore, she diplomatically folded and said that despite previously supporting a smaller increase to $12 an hour, she would sign legislation for a $15 national minimum wage as president. It's a signal that she's willing to bend further to the left if need be.

She joins California Gov. Jerry Brown and Cuomo here, both of whom are seen as more centrist Democrats (a little erratically in Brown's case) and both of whom have capitulated to the $15 an hour movement. It's a terrible economic policy that will harm many Americans in the long run, but not Brown, Cuomo or Clinton. Brown even acknowledged the political expediency of relenting on a massive minimum wage increase when he signed it into law.

All of this is to suggest that we won't see a massive crack-up in the Democratic Party in this election. The party's establishment players are paying attention and responding. But the absurdly unrealistic "free college" movement indicates that this is all far from over. If she wins, Clinton seems likely to be facing a constant push toward the left that seems more pronounced than it was under Barack Obama. If it restrains some of her more bellicose and interventionist foreign policy proposals, that's good news. But for domestic economic policies, her capitulation on the minimum wage and her flip-flopping on trade should be seen as dire warnings.