Fresh from his decisive loss to Hillary Clinton in Nevada, Bernie Sanders ‘fessed up yesterday to his fundamental problem. Kudos to him for stating it plainly, rather than trying to spin it:
“We did not do as good a job as I had wanted to bring out a large turnout.”
Yup, it’s hard for an insurgent candidate to knock off a frontrunner if his prospective voters don’t bother to show up. It’s hard to talk big about fomenting a “revolution” if the revolutionaries are AWOL.
And Hillary Clinton’s long road to the nomination is now a bit smoother. Her voters — especially older women, longtime Democrats, and (most especially) African-Americans — propelled her to a nearly six-point victory, putting the wind at her back on the way to this Saturday’s minority-heavy primary in South Carolina. She’s way ahead in the delegate race, buoyed by the superdelegates who can choose whomever they want; indeed, any doubts they might have been harboring about Hillary have been dispelled by Nevada.
And in March, she’s poised to win most of the primaries in big states where the Democratic electorate is racially diverse — in part because Bernie has yet to prove that he has broad appeal beyond his young white liberal base. Nevada was his first test, and he failed it. Yesterday, he said so himself: “We did badly with the African-American vote.” True that. He lost them to Hillary, 76 percent to 22. (The exit polls said that Bernie won Hispanics by eight points, but nobody believes that’s accurate. In the key Hispanic neighborhoods, in Las Vegas, Hillary actually pulled around 60 percent of those voters.)
Here’s the bottom line for Bernie: You can’t credibly claim that you’ll usher in an era of democratic socialist governance — an era that would hinge on revolutionary grassroots participation — if you can’t even get the grassroots to vote for you en masse in the first place.
Where’s this much-ballyhooed new electoral army? So far, nowhere in sight. All we can do is crunch the math, and the math tells us that Bernie is no Barack Obama. Eight years ago, in Iowa, Obama helped pull a record 239,000 people into the Democratic caucuses; this month, the turnout was 171,000. Eight years ago, in New Hampshire, Democratic turnout was 280,000; this month, it was down by 30,000. And in Nevada this past weekend, the Democratic turnout was 33 percent smaller than in 2008.
In other words, a lot of people who purportedly Feel the Bern apparently don’t feel the urge to vote.
Hillary’s campaign isn’t nearly as sexy — it’s tough to quicken the pulse by talking about real-world incrementalism, as opposed to conjuring pipe dreams that will never be made real – but the Nevada exit polls give us the contours of a winning formula. For instance, when voters were asked what factor was most important in picking a candidate, a 27 percent plurality said “the right experience” should top the list; among those votes, Hillary beat Bernie, 92 percent to 8. And there was a strong mood for incremental change: By 50-41 percent, voters said they want to “generally continue Barack Obama’s policies,” and among the continuity voters, Hillary beat Bernie, 75 percent to 22.
Non-white voters were 42 percent of the Nevada electorate (a far cry from virtually all-white Iowa and New Hampshire), and even if we take into account the questionable Hispanic stats, Hillary beat Bernie among minorities, 56 percent to 42. She’ll leverage that advantage in the upcoming primaries — in South Carolina, blacks are typically more than 50 percent of the entire turnout — and this is one reason why she’s talking so much these days about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. And Michigan votes on March 8.
In Nevada, Hillary also beat Bernie among women, 57 percent to 41. She clearly didn’t do well with the youngest women, but, again, the problem for Bernie is that the young voters were relatively scarce. They treat him like a rock star in his arena rallies, but when it’s time to actually show up on decision day … well, just look at the stats. In Nevada, only 18 percent of the caucus participants were under 30; a whopping 63 percent were 45 or older, and those age cohorts went for Hillary in a landslide.
The upside, for Bernie, is that the Democrats believe in proportional-delegate primaries, as opposed to winner-take-all. Under the latter formula, a candidate who wins by any margin gets all the state’s delegates. But generally speaking, Democrats like to divvy a state’s delegates in rough proportion to a candidate’s share of the vote. Which means that even if Bernie loses a string of big states to Hillary next month, he can still collect delegates and stay in the game, if only to talk from the left.
I’ll stick with what I wrote back in the spring of 2015: “He’s a skilled rhetorician who can make her life miserable for the next 14 months, like a gnat buzzing her ear.” And a candidate who can’t get his “revolution” to the polls is, in the end, only a gnat.
On the demise of Jeb Bush, two fabulous factoids:
1. He and his allies spent $150 million on the campaign, for a total of 94,000 votes. That works out to $1,600 per vote.
2. The last time Republicans won the White House without a Bush or Nixon somewhere on the ticket, the year was 1928. You can look it up.
I talked further today about the presidential pimaries on WHYY’s Radio Times. It’s archived here.