Despite repeated pummellings – four more losses last night, featuring a blowout in Pennsylvania – Bernie Sanders still can’t seem to find the high road on his mental GPS. He’s still steamed that Democrats have the temerity to run Democrats-only primaries (he’s not even a Democrat), he says he’s gonna win in irrelevant West Virginia on May 10, he’s gonna battle at the convention to the bitter end, whatever.
Perhaps, if Bernie is at all interested in losing with grace and class, in uniting with his victorious foe for the most existential crusade of our era – preventing an unhinged racist demagogue from owning the nuclear codes – he will take a moment to read what Hillary Clinton said to her disappointed followers on June 7, 2008.
The primary season had ended four days earlier. She had virtually split the nationwide popular vote with Barack Obama, but she fatally trailed in the delegate count. Her delegate deficit was actually far smaller than Bernie’s current deficit, but did she whine about “rigged” primaries? Nope. Did she have the gall to insist, as Bernie did on Monday, that her victorious foe surrender to her issue agenda? Nope. Here’s a small sampling of what she said:
The way to continue our fight now, to accomplish the goals for which we stand, is to take our energy, our passion, our strength, and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama, the next president of the United States. Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.
That’s the way to do it. You face reality, and eat humble pie for the greater good.
For starters, you read the exit polls, in a crucial state like Pennsylvania, and you accept the incontrovertible fact, once and for all, that your “revolution” does not exist. I parsed those Pennsylvania stats, and good grief, what a slaughter. Clinton won every income bracket, including under $30,000. She won voters of color (31 percent of the electorate) by 28 points. She won black voters by 40 points. Two-thirds of the electorate was over the age of 45 (Bernie, you can’t win with kids alone), and she won the over-45s by 33 points. Two-thirds of the electorate identified as “liberal,” and she won them too, by 10 points.
Remember when Bernie said that she wasn’t “qualified” for the presidency? That smear landed with a thud. A plurality cited “the right experience” as the most important voting criterion – and Clinton won those voters by 70 points. And you know how Bernie keeps insisting that he’s most electable candidate? That didn’t fly, either. Clinton won on electability by 32 points. And when voters were asked which candidate has the more “realistic” policy agenda, Clinton got the nod by 21 points.
So the big question is not whether Bernie is toast – that’s been obvious for weeks; he’s losing the national popular vote by 57 to 43 percent, which in electoral parlance is known as a landslide – but whether he stands down in a graceful manner. We’re still six weeks away from the final contest, so there’s time.
Right now, however, we’re getting mixed signals. Tad Devine, a strategist in the Bernie camp, signaled the press early yesterday that his candidate is prepared to “reassess.” But the Bernie camp is still indulging in juvenalia; yesterday, it sought new donations by emailing a photo of the Clintons at Trump’s wedding. And the candidate himself said last night that he’s proud of winning miniscule Rhode Island – “the one state with an open primary” – and he’s stoked for “the 14 contests to come,” and he’s vowing to fight at the July convention for the issue agenda that’s losing decisively at the ballot box. (Here’s what I mean by decisive: In the Pennsylvania exits, 52 percent said the nominee should “continue Obama’s policies.” Only 32 percent said the nominee should “change to more liberal policies.”)
So we’ll see which way Bernie plays it. As an outsider, a western European-style socialist who merely caucuses with the Democrats, he’s comfortable with defiance. On TV the other night, he insisted that it’s “incumbent” upon Hillary to make the first move toward winning over his fans. Which is quite cheeky, given the fact that she’s the winner and he’s the loser. (He’s the one making demands? Let’s go back in history and see how well that would’ve worked: “General Grant, I am giving you my sword here at Appomattox, as a gesture of surrender, and in return I now demand that you endorse our vanquished Confederate agenda.”)
On the other hand, Bernie has been an inside-the Beltway politician for the past quarter century. If the Democrats win back the Senate this fall, presumably he would very much like to chair the Senate Budget Committee next year. Despite all his self-righteous thunder, he knows how to do deals. He hinted as much the other night, on MSNBC, when he said: “I will do everything in my power to make sure that no Republican gets into the White House in this election cycle.”
If he wants to stay in the race through California, fine. And if he stops trashing Clinton on the stump, and hoses down Tim Robbins and his other celebrity dilletantes – that’s when we’ll truly begin to know whether he’s doing everything in his power to kill the Trump poison before it fatally infects this country.
I’ll focus on Trump tomorrow. But for now, this gem might suffice:
Perhaps my knowledge of American history is rusty, but I do believe this is the first time that Republicans have ever been on the cusp of nominating a candidate who will be hauled into court on a charge of defrauding members of the public to the tune of $40 million. And the first court date happens to be the opening date of the Republican convention. You cannot make this stuff up.