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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sanders Complains, But Without A Good Argument

It's hard to respect the complaints Bernie Sanders is making. Apart from repeating his campaign's position that Debbie Wasserman Schulz is the embodiment of everything that is unholy about the establishment, CNN recently reported the following:
Sanders also said it is "absurd" that superdelegates began supporting Clinton even before she had a competitor.
"There's something absurd that I get 46% of the delegates that come from real contests, real elections, and 7% of the superdelegates," he told Tapper. "Some 400 of Hillary Clinton's superdelegates came on board her campaign before anybody else announced. It was anointment. And that is bad for the process." 
Sanders, who has frequently cited polls saying he does better than Clinton in a matchup against Trump, also said there's "a good chance" the former secretary of state can beat the presumptive Republican nominee. 
"I'm not saying she cannot beat Donald Trump. I think she can. I think there's a good chance she can," the Vermont senator said. "(But) I am the stronger candidate because we appeal to independents -- people who are not in love with either the Democratic or the Republican Party, often for very good reasons."
There are two main points here.  First, he says superdelegates shouldn't endorse candidates before the competition has officially presented itself.  Second, he says he is a better candidate in a general election because he appeals to independents who "are not in love with" either party.

Why shouldn't superdelegates endorse candidates as early as they want? They know the playing field. They're not guessing blind. Furthermore, and most importantly, they can always change their minds. At no point have any superdelegates been prevented from endorsing Bernie. None are nor have ever been bound to Hillary. There was no "annointment."  There was support, and Bernie hasn't shown why anybody should have a problem with that. Bernie might say that it gives the impression that one candidate is better than another. If "better" means "has a better relationship with the party's leadership," then the impression would be entirely accurate. What is wrong with that? If "better" means something else, then I think Bernie is wrong. Voters are not stupid. They know what a political endorsement is.

Second, there's the line about independents.  Here Bernie talks about "love," insinuating that registered Republicans and Democrats are driven more by emotional attachment than rational argument. Bernie, in contrast, appeals to the cautious and rational independents.  Surprising, then, that independents seem to be the ones most responsive to demagoguery.  And I am sure Bernie is aware that many people register for a political party because they want to influence the primary process, and not because they feel any deep sense of devotion to that party. In any case, the question remains as to whether Bernie is a better candidate because he appeals to independents.

According to the most recent Gallup data, 44 percent of the electorate are independent, but 49 percent of the electorate are or lean towards Democrat, while 41 percent of the electorate are or lean towards Republican. Hillary Clinton presumably appeals to the 49 percent of voters who are or lean Democrat, and she probably appeals to a good number of the 41 percent who are or lean Republican, too, since we know there are many on the right who prefer her to Trump.

Bernie has won more independent voters in the Democratic primary, and polls currently show him doing slightly better than Clinton against Trump. However, neither of these mean mean that would win more independent voters than Clinton would against Trump. It does not mean that his support among independents makes him a better candidate in the general election. It doesn't mean he's a better candidate in the general election at all.

For one thing, as is often observed, Bernie has not been the target of a massive hit campaign yet. We cannot predict how he will fare after months and months (and billions of dollars) spent assassinating his character, his policies and his record.

Additionally, polls will most certainly change once the primary is over and Bernie is out of the race. It is very possible that a lot of people who take the "Bernie or Bust" sentiment to heart are driving up Trump's performance in polls against Clinton, but will change their tune once Bernie is out of the race. Clinton's performance in the polls will most likely improve once the primary is over.

Finally, Bernie is assuming that registered Democrats will come out to support him in droves. The reality is that many, many Democrats have lost respect for him and his campaign. (It doesn't help that he accuses Clinton supporters of being irrational or deluded.)  Many, many Democrats are very enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.  If superdelegates were to go against the vote, ignore the primary voting process altogether, and anoint--yes, anoint--Bernie Sanders, then a great number of Hillary's supporters will be pissed the hell off. They will prefer Bernie to Trump, but they will not do so with enthusiasm. The Democratic Party will be damaged, and that could depress voter turnout in November.

In sum, there is no reason why superdelegates should abandon Clinton, whose performance in the primary has been phenomenal. Turning on Hillary at this point would be shooting themselves in the foot.