In the aftermath of the Vermont primary, in which Hillary Clinton failed to reach the 15 percent threashold needed to qualify for convention delegates, there’s been more pressure on superdelegates who back Clinton to switch to Bernie Sanders. Because to vote for Clinton, the story goes, would be to ignore the wishes of the electorate.
Which fails to consider the disenfranchisement of the 13.6 percent who voted for Clinton. I’m not making that complaint; I have said the parties have the right to determine rules for choosing a presidential candidate, and I stick by that. I’m just pointing out the hypocrisy, that’s all. Both candidates benefit, and lose, in different ways that roughly cancel out.
What I am here to say is there are very good reasons for Pat Leahy and Peter Shumlin and Billi Gosh to support Hillary. They may believe she’s the stronger general-election candidate. They might value her long and loyal service to the Democratic Party, contrasted with Bernie-come-lately who has been harshly critical of the party but has also benefited, throughout his political career, from his arm’s-length affiliation with the Democrats.
And here’s another one, a big one, courtesy of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank:
Hillary Clinton has raised $26 million for the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic parties so far this campaign. And Sanders? $1,000.
That’s no typo. Clinton is doing more to boost the party’s 2016 prospects than Sanders by the proportion of 26,000 to 1.
… Clinton has pledged to rebuild the party and has begun to make good on that promise. Sanders, by contrast, has shown little concern for the very real crisis the party faces beneath the presidential level.
Let me pause here and state, clearly, that I don’t blame Bernie for making this strategic choice. He has a revolution to build, and that costs money. His first priority is fully funding a presidential campaign, which is a very costly undertaking. He is doing what he needs to do.
However, as Milbank documents, the Democratic Party structure is in critical condition.
The dimensions of the crisis: Republicans hold a huge advantage in governorships and state legislatures around the country. This is bad enough now; it will become devastating in just a few years, when redistricting will determine the playing field for another decade. Need I remind you that Republican-dominated redistricting after 2010 has made it almost impossible to take back the House of Representatives? Do we want another ten years of that?
Bernie’s answer to the “shown little concern” argument is that he is fostering a “political revolution” which will bring millions of new progressive voters into the process, thus leading to more Democratic wins in Congress and state governments. Which is a nice theory, and his capacity-crowd rallies make it look plausible; but the returns from this year’s primaries and caucuses reveal no such influx of voters.
Turnout is down, substantially, from 2008 levels. It’s not a precise comparison; there are significant differences between the two campaign seasons. But there is no evidence whatsoever that Bernie is giving the party a fresh infusion of People Power. The Sanders Revolution is pretty much confined to the candidate himself.
The extent of the Democratic disadvantage in state parties is not apparent around here, since the VTGOP is so woefully underfunded and disorganized. But it’s true. And Bernie isn’t doing anything — outside of his ephemeral promises of a “revolution” — to change that. Hillary is doing quite a lot. With her help, the Democrats may be able to return to Howard Dean’s “fifty-state strategy,” which did much to enable the Obama presidency.
That, in itself, is reason enough for the likes of Pat Leahy to support Hillary Clinton. He wants to win the White House, but he also wants to recapture the Senate. He wants stronger state parties so the 2020s will be a much better time for progressive causes than the 2010s have been. Milbank:
A DNC task force after the 2014 midterm wipeout called for urgent action at the state-party level. The task force recommended a “three-cycle plan” with allied groups that “wins back legislative chambers in order to prepare for redistricting efforts.” It is, in essence, an attempt to revive Dean’s “fifty-state strategy” of building up local parties. That was controversial at the time, but a study of the 2006 midterm election by Harvard’s Elaine Kamarck argued that in congressional districts where the DNC had paid organizers in place for at least a year, the Democratic vote was more than double what it would have been.
Paid organizers cost money. Clinton is raising money for the effort. Bernie is doing a lot of good stuff, but he isn’t doing this.