The Incredible Vanishing Bernie

What a difference a week and a string of defeats can make. Bernie Sanders has completely vanished from the Huffington Post. Hillary is all over the place, but it’s as if Bernie never existed, either in headline or picture. Trump is everywhere in the Huffington Post, scary as hell. Hillary is everywhere, being presidential. As is Obama, being president. Republicans are all over the paper being cowardly (with an especially bad picture of Mitch McConnell). The National Rifle Association is on there too, being eerily silent. But no Bernie being anything. He was once all over the Huffington Post, every single day, in pictures, headlines, and in columns singing his praises. But that was a long, long time ago, just last week. Now I scroll down and down and down but there is no sign of Bernie Sanders, even though today was the final primary of the Democratic race. Clinton Wins the Washington D.C. Primary a headline says. Bernie didn’t make the headline. I keep scrolling and finally think I see a picture of Bernie Sanders, but it’s actually Larry David. Curb Your Enthusiasm, it said, returns for a ninth season. No mention of his Bernie Sanders shtick. No mention of Bernie at all.

Bernie Sanders exits, stage left.

That was a helluva speech Liz Warren gave. It’s unfortunate it had to be today, though, and not tomorrow, because I would have loved to have seen Bernie Sanders’ speech at RFK stadium. He was a couple minutes into it, subdued, almost pensive, like an immense weight was upon him. Where was he going with this? How would the crowd respond? I was transfixed. Suddenly it’s a split screen, and Liz Warren came walking out onto a stage, beaming. Bernie, exhausted, was speaking but you couldn’t help but be distracted by the electricity in Elizabeth Warren’s stride. Bernie was telling the crowd that his campaign is doing something different. It is telling the truth, he says, as he has said a thousand times–when the audio switches without warning to Liz Warren and Bernie is cut off mid-sentence. We hear Liz Warren launch into one of the greatest speeches in our modern political history. It was that good. Bernie’s stump speech was forgotten. None of the talking heads even mentioned he had been speaking. They were all about Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It’s like Bernie was never even there. Bernie Sanders, the man who had upended American politics, who had dominated every Democratic conversation. Bernie Sanders, who is all anyone could talk about yesterday. Bernie Sanders, who held the fate of the nation in his hands. But through the magic of live television it seemed like Warren’s star had risen, instantly, and Bernie’s had waned, just as instantly. Was it intended that way? Who knows. But it did make for exciting television. Will it have an electrifying effect on Bernie voters? No doubt, especially the under thirty young women who had been so loyal to Bernie Sanders and not so crazy about Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren had changed the political demographics instantaneously. Liz will definitely win over the Millennial women for Hillary, a young under thirty journalist said, if not the Bernie Bros. Bernie Bros. She rolled her eyes saying it, as if ill mannered, foul mouthed Bernie Bros were suddenly a relic of an older, more primitive time. Angry young men with no respect for women in a women’s world.

But this was not the way this should be happening. I’d been waiting for hours for Bernie’s speech. It was supposed to be a major speech. All the news networks were waiting for it. It was to be broadcast in its entirety. This was to be one of the most significant speeches by the single most significant politician of 2016. “How Bernie Sanders’s day in Washington got eclipsed by Democratic unity” said the headline in the Washington Post. It had all happened so fast. If only somebody could have worked the timing out, coordinated the two events, but perhaps they just were determined to have Elizabeth Warren scorch Donald Trump before she endorsed Hillary this afternoon. And scorch him she did, beautifully, rehearsed to perfection, leaving a pile of cinders where once a big loutish billionaire had been.

There was a lot of stagecraft today, that was obvious, the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton campaign and Elizabeth Warren’s every move choreographed to perfection, without a wasted motion. Smooth and perfect. Political tai chi. Meanwhile Bernie, good honest Bernie, truthful Bernie, crusading Bernie, is left looking like William Jennings Bryan in Inherit the Wind, somehow immediately dated, a relic from an earlier time when he left crowds spellbound and chanting his name. Bernie’s speech today seemed divorced from reality, said the usually sympathetic Huffington Post, scolding him for pretending his campaign was not over. But you had to scroll way down to find that story, it was buried far beneath Elizabeth’s Warren’s enormous photo and name in huge red letters. Scroll down past Marco Rubio’s picture, and a bit further on, between an article on mosquitos and an article on a hit and run driver, was Bernie’s small picture and smaller font, an afterthought. “It would be extraordinary if the people of Washington, our nation’s capital, stood up and told the world that they are ready to lead this country into a political revolution” Bernie told the smallish crowd, just a fraction of the turnout he’d gotten in Los Angeles only days before. But Tuesday’s Washington D.C. primary, would be the last stop in the political revolution, and he will lose it like he lost the South, by a huge margin. Bernie knew that. He had told President Obama just that morning he understood the math. But he was putting on the show for the true believers spread out on the lawn before him. They cheered, they swooned, they knew the catechism by heart. Stay in the race, they chanted. Some said they’d write in Bernie Sanders on the ballot come November. He smiled wanly. It’d been scarcely forty eight hours since the California primary, but that seemed like another time.

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Bernie Sanders and the very last primary of 2016

Bernie said in Santa Monica tonight that he will continue the fight for every last delegate. Yet the one remaining contest is the primary next week in Washington DC, and if demographic trends continue as they have in every other single race with comparable demographics, Bernie Sanders will get creamed. It could be 80-20 for Hillary. It is a guaranteed complete humiliation, yet he is making his last big push there, even calling for an army of volunteers and maximum effort. Today’s results were bad enough, but by announcing it is his last stand, he is bringing all the Washington and campaign press corps’ attention on his final disastrous defeat in the nation’s capitol next Tuesday, a contest that otherwise would have been a small item in the news. It’ll just make his campaign look like a failure. At least he won two of the six states tonight, but he cannot win anything in the Washington D.C. primary. And what is after that, the Super Delegates? Being blown out of the water in the last nine contests is a way to impress the Super Delegates? Because in a four day span Bernie Sanders lost the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico, and California primaries. Next week, add Washington D.C. to that list. In the three biggest of those, the ones with most of the delegates–Puerto Rico, New Jersey and California–Bernie was crushed. Three Hillary landslides. She expanded her delegate lead by hundreds, and in a four day span Hillary Clinton increased her popular vote total over Bernie Sanders by about 800,000 votes. Bernie Sanders won the Montana primary and the North Dakota caucuses. That is it. Fighting for delegates this late in the game is not doing him any good. Indeed, it’s weakening him. He was a much bigger candidate just a week ago, making demands, promising an upset in California, getting more press than Hillary. He’s not so big now. He’ll be even less big after next Tuesday.

Bernie and Barney

I suspect Bernie’s demand that former congressman Barney Frank and Connecticut governor Daniel Malloy be removed from the Democratic Platform committee has more to do with his being thin skinned than with politics…both have gone after him in ways that Bernie found upsetting (not to mention effective). Frank has exposed weaknesses in Bernie’s Wall Street reform policies (he was brutal after Bernie’s stumble with the Daily News) and Malloy has been furious with Bernie since Bernie unfortunately sided with the NRA on a couple votes after the Sandy Hook shooting. Bernie lost Connecticut, in part because of Malloy’s impassioned campaign against him, and he earlier lost Frank’s state of Massachusetts. But in particular Bernie got stomped in New York after a huge investment of resources, money and credibility, and doubtless Frank’s incessant appearances in the news after Bernie’s tongue-tied Daily News interview helped with that stomping.

But such an angry demand leaves Bernie’s own Platform Committee choices–e.g., James Zogby, Cornel West–open to demands they be booted on the same basis (especially West, who has been extremely critical of Hillary Clinton and President Obama) and as such it seems less driven by strategy than by temperament. Perhaps it actually is a sign that he, as Rachel Maddow suggested, is planning on forcing a contested convention by any means possible…but I am not convinced this was all that Machiavellian. I just think that Bernie hates the guys. He and Frank, in particular, have been arguing for decades. They have never gotten along and it has carried over into the campaign.

Of course, things like this are also a useful way to drive fundraising, as the Sanders campaign’s already weakened cash flow money will start drying up even more once the primaries are over. The campaign will have to force a series of such confrontations that will get lots of media and social media coverage and keep some funding coming in. The fact that Bernie is making these demands now, before the primaries are even over, is probably not accidental. He is still telling his supporters that they will win all the remaining contests, a belief that is critical in driving social media debate on this. He won’t win all of them, as he must know–he will lose New Jersey, Washington DC and Puerto Rico definitely, New Mexico probably and is still behind in California, where he would have to win his first ever primary in a state with less that 75% white voters–and if he does lose those races, his demands will have a lot less force behind them. So now is the time, as Bird said so emphatically on his horn.

The debate that ain’t happening.

(I dashed this off late last night (or early that morning, actually) and then before I posted it, word came down that The Donald don’t debate with no losers. So the great Trump-Sanders confrontation never happened. But here is my analysis anyway.)

I think the reason that Trump is considering debating Sanders is that he knows it will get him some of Sanders’ votes after Hillary is nominated. Sanders’ angry young white male supporters are ripe for the picking. Trump will wind up with maybe 20% of them in November. Maybe more. None of the female Sanders supporters, but a fat slice of the men. It’ll vary by state. Probably fewer from California, not that it matters. But lots from West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Florida…states where the race will be tight and the impact of those voters switching from Sanders to Trump could be decisive. Remember that 44% of Sanders male voters in West Virginia said they plan to vote for Trump in November. West Virginia is doubtless an extreme example. But 25% of Sanders’ Millennial males in Ohio, where races tend to be extremely close, could turn the state.

The angry Millennial men voting for Sanders are not a monolithic bloc. Most will vote against Trump–over 50% anyway–but maybe 40% will vote for Trump simply because he will shake things up. Men tend to vote for other men, more often Republican than Democratic men, and are suckers for an angry man. Reagan got most of that vote in 1980, including a lot of liberal Democrats, Nixon got the men’s vote in ’72, and a George Wallace got nearly 20% of Gene McCarthy’s vote in 1968, again mostly men.

And keep that in mind, this debate would be a brilliant coup by Trump. The Bernie Sanders movement is not immune to Trumpmania. There is an element among them–white men, nearly all of them, mainly young white men–to whom a crazy macho guy like Trump is exciting. You may think he’s an idiot. I may think he’s an idiot. But for a great many of us dudes, Donald Trump is somebody who can shake things up.

As the campaign heads into the fall, I think one of the top stories will be that large bloc of Bernie voters who, like the 27% of Kennedy voters in 1980, will say they will vote for Trump because he will shake things up. And in fact, for such an event not to happen, Millennials will have to be completely different from their equivalents in 1980 and 1968. To preclude the prospect of a huge number of Bernie voters becoming Trump voters you have to assume that the almost 90% of Bernie Sanders supporters among Millennials will vote as a solid bloc in November, something that has never happened before in American electoral history, ever. Far more likely is that at least a quarter of them will vote for a populist Republican.

It’s important to remember that white men almost always vote for the conservative, and by a large margin. And they will vote for Trump, by a considerable margin. Bernie must have his reasons for offering to debate Trump–it was his idea, he slipped the question to Jimmy Kimmel–but Bernie will not stomp Trump in the debate. He might score points, and his supporters would love it, but he won’t dominate Trump as we wish somebody could for once. It’s a Hail Mary pass, though, probably scoring Bernie a few points in California, but in the long run Trump benefits more. Bernie is looking to pull off an impossible upset at the convention. Trump is looking at all those angry young men who will vote for him in November.