Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was expected to do very well in the five primaries on April 26, but after the results, Bernie Sanders and his supporters face a critical moment in the election as the campaign fights for every possible delegate on the way to the convention.
Clinton won Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware decisively. She also eked out a win in Connecticut. She lost in Rhode Island, which was the only state with an open primary that allowed independents to vote for Sanders without affiliating with the Democratic Party.
Numerous dedicated Sanders volunteers, who have put thousands of hours into the campaign, now face low morale. Sanders supporters lost a lot of hope after New York, and much of that had to do with the establishment news media aggressively promoting the Clinton campaign’s talking points that there was no way Sanders could achieve victory (which was not accurate).
But fourteen primary contests remain, and if the Sanders campaign is still able to raise millions of dollars in May, deploy thousands of volunteers to canvas, and make hundreds of thousands of phone calls to voters, the campaign will continue to achieve great success.
There are three frames one can adopt to consider the next phase of the Democratic presidential primary:
(1) Primary is rigged: The two-party system for nominating presidents is rigged, and the Democratic Party establishment successfully averted a popular uprising that could have deprived one of the most powerful people within their party a chance at being their nominee for the White House.
(2) Winning the nomination: The math is not impossible yet. Sanders can still win the nomination because there are 1,000+ pledged delegates left to be awarded, however, there are major caveats to this statement.
(3) Influencing the Democratic Party’s platform: The Sanders campaign has to keep doing well in state primaries to have the most impact on the platform at the Democratic National Convention in July. It will likely become the focus of the campaign in the last stage of the primary race and could free supporters from constraints of the horse race aggressively imposed by establishment news media and the Clinton campaign.
So, let’s take each of these frames.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on April 27 found likely voters believe the primary system used by the Democratic and Republican Parties is “rigged” against “some candidates.” Seventy-one percent said “they would prefer to pick their party’s nominee with a direct vote, cutting out the use of delegates as intermediaries.”
Close to half indicated they would prefer a “single primary day in which all states held their nominating contests.”
Sanders has railed against “closed primaries,” where voters are required to affiliate with the Democratic Party to vote. It means there are deadlines for independent voters to meet if they want to vote and particularly, as in the case of New York, these deadlines can come and go early in races before most voters know there was a deadline they had to meet if they wanted to vote.
The “superdelegates,” which are part of the Democratic Party’s system, are designed to “balance” out popular uprisings like the one currently fueled within the party by Sanders. Hundreds of “superdelegates” indicated their support for Clinton before the first contests in January. Media outlets have incorporated “superdelegates” into delegate counts and misled voters about Sanders’ chances to win all throughout the primary race.
In multiple states, election fraud or severe dysfunction at polling places was reported. There were thousands of voters turned away in Illinois when several polling places ran out of ballots. Over a hundred thousand Brooklyn Democrats were purged from the voter rolls as the result of a “clerical error.” New York City comptroller Scott Stringer announced an audit, but there are questions about how far the audit will go, especially since Stringer is a “superdelegate” who supports Clinton. Exit polls strongly suggest Sanders actually won in Massachusetts and Missouri.
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Unfortunately, the Sanders campaign cannot afford to expend resources or focus energy on challenging what has unfolded. It cannot nation-build. These are symptoms of a system, which should not be overlooked and forgotten, but what is most important is maintaining the resolve to keep up the fight.
The Sanders campaign can still win. More than 1,000 delegates are left to be won. The upcoming contests in May are: Indiana, Guam, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon.
He is behind by about 333 pledged delegates. There are open primaries in Indiana, Montana, North Dakota, Puerto Rico, and South Dakota. Independents can vote in California, where 475 pledged delegates are up for grabs. Sanders also is likely to do very well in West Virginia. He can considerably close the gap again, as he did when he had a seven-state win streak before New York.
The major problem the campaign has to overcome is the closed primaries in Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia. When combining these states, there are 235 pledged delegates for Sanders to win and New Jersey alone will award 126 pledged delegates. New Jersey bears similarity to the terrain Sanders faced in New York.
However, even before the losses on April 26, it was clear the strategy of the campaign was to aim for winning landslide victories in California and Oregon to win. The campaign has the potential to still achieve that objective if it can prevent the many volunteers, who have bolstered the campaign, from quitting, and if it can even bring on board new volunteers from these states, which have yet to vote.
If the Sanders campaign is within a few pledged delegates at the convention, it can make a case to “superdelegates” that Sanders is far, far more popular to independents, which Clinton needs to defeat Trump. This is partly why Sanders trounces Trump in polls while Clinton wins by only a few points.
This is a terrible frame for the Sanders campaign and its volunteers. It is suffocating. It means submitting to the horse race narrative embraced by media outlets like CNN and MSNBC. It means campaign managers and surrogates going on air to engage in debates about process and polls when voters need to hear discussion about income inequality, climate change, and the disastrous regime change policies that must be abandoned.
Also, no amount of discussion about what Sanders can do in states to still win will satisfy pundits. They do not believe in the Sanders campaign; they never have, they never will, and let’s remember after the March 15 primaries, there were resounding calls in the news for Sanders to drop out of the race. The media increasingly views Sanders as childish for prolonging the primary race.
The Sanders campaign has always been better served when the primary race is about the issues. His positions on issues pull her in a direction that benefits poor and working class Americans when her campaign would be more comfortable coasting to the convention with establishment politics, which are harmless to corporations and the rich. That is why focusing on influencing the Democratic Party’s platform at the convention in July may be best.
For one, the Sanders campaign can still do everything it would have done to win the nomination because the campaign needs the most pledged delegates possible in order to have the greatest effect on the adopted platform.
It is easier to refute the criticism that Sanders and his campaign are “destroying” the Democratic Party. All along, even those who support Clinton have conceded Sanders makes Clinton a stronger candidate by forcing her to take positions on issues she would normally ignore. Sanders and his campaign can remain aggressive and justify it with the argument that this is about a “movement” and not a person. It always has been about a new bold vision for the United States. So, anyone who alleges Sanders is “sabotaging” the Democrats or “spoiling” the Democratic Party’s chances in November by trying to win delegates in May and June is spouting vitriol that deserves contempt.
To be clear, no voter should believe for a moment that Hillary Clinton will voluntarily abandon corporate Democratic policies, which reinforce the status quo and define her political career. Between 2013 and 2015, after Clinton left the position of secretary of state, she gave 82 paid or sponsored speeches to 82 corporations, trade associations, and other groups, who actively seek to sway government. She has ties to financial firms, including vulture capitalists, which are responsible for the severe economic destruction in Puerto Rico. Clinton refuses to release transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. Clinton also supports regime change as a policy, which has had devastating consequences in Libya, Syria, and Iraq. She is supported by pro-Israel mega-donor Haim Saban, the Democrats’ Sheldon Adelson, and can barely bring herself to talk about the Palestinians as if they are human beings. Plus, Clinton insists the military coup in Honduras “followed the constitution” and abided by legal precedent.
This is another incentive for the Sanders campaign and its volunteers to maintain strength. Voters clearly desire an alternative to the corporate politics of the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is the figurehead of this wing of the party, and if it is extremely distressing to think Americans will have to choose between two oligarchs in November—Clinton and Donald Trump—now is the time to stand up and organize.
Now is the moment for Sanders volunteers and the grassroots organizations to solidify relationships with community groups that can outlast the Democratic primary and be a force politicians have to reckon with as Americans fight for free college tuition, Medicare For All, an end to natural gas fracking and oil drilling, stopping destructive free trade agreements like NAFTA and the TPP, abandoning the failed “War on Drugs,” and rejecting regime change policies, in spite of the politics of the status quo which the elites of both the Democratic and Republican Parties support.