Is Bernie Sanders' Campaign Over? Why It's Unfair To Declare Hillary Clinton "Inevitable" So Early In The Race
On Super Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders lost to Sec. Hillary Clinton in seven of the 11 states holding Democratic contests, gaining 321 delegates to her 486. Is Sanders' campaign over after this loss, which followed closely after a big loss in South Carolina? Some media diagnosticians were quick to declare his campaign pretty much dead in the water. A New York Times headline asserted that Sanders' "Path to Victory is All But Blocked." Politico told us that "Sanders’ presidential hopes are on life support." On Monday, Vox claimed that Super Tuesday would be "make or break" for Sanders. These claims are unfair so early in the race, and they could serve to fulfill their own prophecies by distorting the public's perceptions.
Those of us who write about politics presumably do so because we think it's important. Every primary, every caucus, and every vote has significance, and we want our readers to feel that enthusiasm. But it's easy to slip into myopia and focus on one day or one contest, and lose sight of the long view. Us political writers have been spilling font about the crucial nature of early-voting states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina) as "tone-setters" for the race, and of Super Tuesday's potential to build or slow momentum. I've written about these topics several times myself. And I believe that tones do get set, and momentum does build or slow.
But sometimes we writers need to take an intellectual Xanax and slow our diagnostic rolls. We got a healthy dose of the medicine we need from political commentator and professor of public policy Robert Reich on Tuesday. Reich wrote on Facebook:
Regardless of how well Bernie does today, the media will say Hillary is now the Democratic candidate. Baloney. The 'momentum' theory of politics is based on momentum stories the media itself generates. Don’t succumb to the 'momentum' game. Regardless of what happens today, this race is still very much alive ...
Reich cited three reasons that Sanders' campaign is not, contrary to the diagnosticians behind the keyboards, dead in the water. First, Reich said Sanders has a better chance in the upcoming states than he did in the Super Tuesday states. Second, Sanders is receiving an unaltered flow of contributions to keep his campaign going. Third, this is a movement, and movements don't spark up and fizzle out in one moment.
We don't have much in the way of recent polls for the states in which contests are forthcoming. But one thing we can consider is demographics. We went into Super Tuesday knowing that the demographics did not bode well for Sanders. Black voters, who comprise significant portions of the population in many of the Southern states that voted on Tuesday, have not been swayed by Sanders. Exit polls from six Super Tuesday states found that Clinton got 80 percent of the black vote, echoing similar performances in Nevada and South Carolina. The demographics in many of the Northern and Western states that have yet to hold their contests are more white, and white people make up the majority of Sanders' base. If we're going to talk about a campaign's prospects going forward, this is the kind of thing we need to consider — who has whose support, where those people are, and whether or not they have held their contests yet.
Sanders has been fighting an uphill battle since day one. Not only did very few people know who the hell he was at the beginning of the race, but he's also pushing the progressive boundaries of the Democratic establishment. His campaign has never quite escaped the "Clinton inevitability" argument, which posits her as the eventual candidate no matter what. And every loss he incurs will spark a resurgence of that idea, whether it manifests as a nagging fear in the minds of his supporters or as a firm conclusion in the minds of his doubters. And maybe he will lose. But those of us making the headlines should not push these fears and conclusions, and we shouldn't push a possibility as an inevitability. We can make our predictions, but we shouldn't pretend to be diagnosticians with the power to declare competitive campaigns dead one month into the primary election season.
Image: Memegenerator.net (1)