Stop Trying to Make Bernie Happen

He’s never going to happen.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

In mid January, January 15th in actual fact I published a story here about how Bernie Sanders would not actually win the Democratic nomination. By late February though, I was sweating. Part of that was because I had a REALLY bad cold which, no joke, might have been coronavirus, but part of it was because I was genuinely concerned at how well Sanders did in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

In retrospect I can now look back at myself and laugh for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment, but he did place a close second in Iowa and win the other two outright. Now, his win in Nevada was particularly unnerving after the behaviour of his delegates in 2016 and his attacks on the Nevada Culinary Union.

But, I need not have been concerned. In each case including in Nevada (at least by percentage) Sanders did worse than he did in 2016. And In 2016 he lost. He lost by a lot. Now, you can say that the reason for that is that 2016 was a two-person race but 2020 is a kajillion person race, but even that’s not really accurate. The only reason 2016 was a two-person race was because Bernie Sanders capitalised on misogyny and stayed in the race well past the point where he was even arguably viable. If he was going to be the front runner in this race he would have had to do considerably better regardless of how many other names there were on the ballot.

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Here are Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 results side by side. He did marginally better in Nevada by count which ended up netting him more delegates there, but in all cases his percentage of the total vote went down.

And then South Carolina happened and depending on your perspective the world was either filled with love and laughter or plunged into unending night. Technically, TECHNICALLY, Bernie came in second in South Carolina. But it was such a distant second it hardly mattered and it is possible that a sizeable component of his votes were a result of the so-called “Operation Chaos.” South Carolina wasn’t so much a chink in Bernie’s armour as a cannonball directly through the cuirass. If political armour were an actual thing, Bernie Sanders would have a South Carolina shaped hole punched through his.

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Pictured: Bernie Sanders’ political armour. This particular example dates to the 16th c. Bernie was old then too.

The reason South Carolina was important was that it was the first state with a sizeable African-American population and, as I pointed out in that Jan. 15th piece, African-American voters are the backbone, heart and soul of the Democratic Party. As in 2016, after the 2020 South Carolina primary when black voters made their wishes known there was an explosion of pretty virulent racism from Sanders’ camp. I’ve cited it elsewhere and it’s gross, so I shan't cite it here.

But, what I couldn’t have really seen coming was that both Klobuchar and Buttigieg suspended their campaign and endorsed Biden. The latter wasn’t a surprise but Buttigieg had about as much reason to stay in the race as Sanders and I had expected Klobuchar to wait until her state had voted. Sanders’ campaign has made their endorsements into some “establishment,” coup but Sanders’ campaign also said they were trying to build support among black Democrats.

Anyways my nickname is Anxiety Ari (I’m lying, no one calls me that), so despite all of this I STILL went into Super Tuesday sweating and THIS time I was perfectly well. I run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, so it wasn’t that either. Although, I did have a really nice curry the other day so perhaps that’s why I was sweating.

But by any measure Sanders floundered catastrophically on Super Tuesday. Yeah, I know he won California, yeah, I know he’s only a hundred delegates or so behind Biden. But before South Carolina the newly Uncle Joe dubbed Bernie “Brothers,” were making it out like Sanders was uncatchable. Well, that’s demonstrably untrue. And when we compare it to 2016 it gets even worse.

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This is Bernie Sanders’ performance in both the 2016 and 2020 primaries including all the states that have held contests to date in the current primary.

Sanders is well behind Biden at the moment, but in 2016 he was also significantly trailing Hillary Clinton. But what’s notable here is he’s not just trailing Biden; he’s trailing his own performance in 2016. As of writing Biden has 664 pledged delegates. If Sanders had perfectly repeated his 2016 performance he’d be in the lead.

In 2016 of these eighteen contests, Sanders took eight. This time he’s only taken six. His share of the vote has dropped in all the contests including those he won and in virtually all of the cases where he ended up with a higher number of votes than he had in 2016 the difference may be explained away either by that state switching to a primary from a caucus or experiencing a population increase.

Also, note how he did in Vermont.

Sanders’ argument — or I suppose his surrogates’ argument — for his viability is that he’ll bring in new voters. I haven’t personally crunched the numbers on that so I won’t speculate either way, but if he is bringing in new voters they’re not voting for him.

I’ve written at length on multiple occasions about the divisive nature of Bernie Sanders’ campaign but putting that to one side, he’s had four years to build support among Democrats and expand the reach of the Democratic Party. I continue to see pieces written about the vaunted “enthusiasm gap,” which is supposedly an idea that anyone not with Sanders doesn’t really care all that much about politics. I’ve always found that a bit silly, but then again, autistic so not great at expressing my love of anything. Except cats. Cats get me.

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Autism.

The point is, despite all this preparation and all the hot-takes and the many millions of dollars that Sanders has raised he hasn’t actually raised support. He has lost support. Sanders supporters are quick to cite Sanders’ increased demographic diversity, but as Nate Silver pointed out it’s not so much increased diversity as white flight.

This is from politico and it’s quite fun to play with ( https://www.politico.com/2020-election/democratic-presidential-candidates/polls/). A candidate whose representation is perfectly diverse would have a triangle with no variation. And yeah, Sanders’ support looks almost like that. But so would mine the first day I got into the race. If Sanders expected to win in the Democratic Party he would have had to earn the votes of African-Americans. But he hasn’t done that.

Angry white men tell me that Hillary Clinton was not popular and that accomplished women are bad, bad, no good, bad. They also tell me I’m simultaneously too young to understand stuff and too old to hold any worth. So that’s cool. But once again I need to remind everyone Hillary Clinton won the 2016 election. She won the primary and she won the general. She was the first woman to win several of the caucuses and primaries and she was the first woman to win the nomination of a major party. I do appreciate how that’s inconvenient, but it’s also factual.

But before someone accuses me of rehashing 2016 and not letting it go — because of course, two hundred plus years of being chattel, being able to see someone like you finally get close to leading the world, and then watching her being cruelly denied is something I should totally get over in five minutes — this is not about Hillary. Hillary is not running in 2016, in fact; Biden is. So, I can’t compare Biden’s 2016 performance to his 2020 performance nor can I do that for Hillary, but I CAN put the two of them side by side and see how they do.

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Hillary Clinton vs. Joe Biden Democratic Primary. Highlighted cells show where that candidate won his or her primary contest.

I think it’s pretty clear: Hillary wins that rap battle. Although, that would be weird. Anyway, the reason I’m showing this is the argument that HRC was unpopular is a pretty corrupt one. And yeah, I do mean “corrupt.” It’s not only demonstrably wrong, it’s also misogynist and overtly cruel. Sanders lost in 2016 because he was up against the most accomplished and qualified person in human history to run for the American Presidency. He didn’t have a chance. In 2020 though he’s losing because as that accomplished and qualified person quipped, “Nobody likes him.”

And yeah, yeah I know you like him blah blah “elitist shill,” free-college, M4A, occasional racist/sexist slur, blah, BUT look at the numbers. Sanders isn’t losing to Biden; he’s losing in general. Even in those first few states where he did well, he underperformed relative to 2016 when he lost. He’s not losing because Biden’s the alpha and omega. And this is actually statistically upheld. Biden loses when head to head against HRC, but it’s not statistically significant. At all. But the difference between Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 performance is. Sanders lost in 2016, but now, not only is he losing, but he’s losing to himself.

Sanders is losing because the people just don’t want him to be President.

There’s many reasons for that. Maybe its his lack of planning, maybe it’s his abrasive attitude, maybe it’s that when economists get a hold of what exists of his plans they have nothing nice to say, maybe it’s his BernieBros, the Russia connections, the FEC violations, the dismissiveness of the press, his inability to take responsibility, his age and infirmity, his three homes, his history with the NRA, his past essays, his lack of accomplishments, or any number of other things.

I don’t doubt that the people who like him really like him, but they’re not a sufficient proportion of the electorate to get him the nomination or the Presidency and they never will be. And yeah, I know the argument is that this is all somehow an establishment conspiracy to rob the people of their true lord and savior, but for that to be actually true, the “establishment,” has to include most liberal/progressive voters. Now, any time you’re using us vs. them rhetoric and words like “establishment,” or “elitist,” you’re likely in a populist movement and populist movements generally historically lose explicitly because they’re exclusionary. But this is the problem with Bernie Sanders. He’s just not popular but his rhetoric has convinced his followers that everyone else is inherently immoral and wrong.

Again, Sanders has had since 2016 to expand his base. He has explicitly and aggressively tried to expand his base. He did raise a lot of money. But he clearly didn’t expand his base.

I expect that some of Sanders rancour and the rancour expressed by his supporters towards Michael Bloomberg had to do with the fact that before Bloomberg entered the race Sanders’ war chest was one of the more impressive ones. But Bloomberg just proved you can’t buy an election. And this has consequences for Sanders. Yes, Sanders has a lot of money, but this is still a democracy. Sanders cannot buy this election. To win an election you have to get the support of voters and Sanders has failed to do that.

Now, yes, I’m aware that a Sanders win is still mathematically possible, but it’s just not likely. I don’t mess with polls since about Nov. 8, 2016, but there’s nothing to indicate that Sanders can or will make a comeback. If he was going to win he had to get African-American support. Yeah, Sanders demonstrably does well with white people in caucus states with low turnout. But in both 2016 and 2020 SC was the first indication that black Americans were not buying what Sanders was selling. And it’s just gotten worse from there.

Sanders has pulled up his campaign operations in the South and seems to be making his last stand in Michigan. Honestly, that’s a smart move and its in keeping with his previous strategy of trying to target big states. Michigan is worth 125 pledged delegates, it went for him in 2016, and it’s pretty white. Not incredibly white but whitesque. Sanders typically does at least okay with everything that Michigan seems to be about. But in 2016 he won there only marginally so if this trend holds, he’ll lose Michigan at roughly the same time he loses the rest of the South. There’s also a pretty decent chance he’ll lose Washington as that’s changed from a caucus to a primary. Again, mathematically he won’t have been eliminated by that point, but he’s just not realistically in a position where he can win.

Sanders more or less operates along racial lines. I know that’s not flattering, but his appeal is largely to white voters, and when he did do outreach it was almost exclusively to Latino voters. If Sanders could get the Democratic Party to vote exclusively on racial lines that might be an effective strategy. It would be awful, but it would work. Whites make up about 59% of the Democratic Party and Latinos are about 12% so it’s pretty gross to just ignore and even denigrate the black vote but it could work. The problem is that that is super gross. I’m white, but I’ve got black friends. I’m not going to ignore them just because some guy promises me a shiny. And the same goes fortunately, for a lot of white, Latino, and Asian voters. Sanders is trying to cut people out along racial lines, but the Democratic Party is — at present — the party of tolerance and social justice. So the dog-whistles may be effective at increasing groupthink within his own base, but it’s not going to attract additional Democratic voters.

In conclusion: Stop trying to make fetch happen.

Doctor of Palaeopathology, rage-prone optimist, stealth berserker, opera enthusiast, and insatiable consumer of academic journals.

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