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The dangers of saying Bernie Sanders can still win

For those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you saw yesterday that I posted a brief preview of what to expect in the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton's goal for the evening is 38 delegates (of 86) while Bernie Sanders has a goal of 48 delegates. Those are "where they should be if they expect to win the nomination." Currently, Sanders leads by an average of 4 points. But he needs to win by about 10 points to get that kind of delegate count. As myself and others have tried to hammer home all primary season, it's less about who wins and loses each state and more about the margins. Because delegates are awarded proportionally, you must win big to gain lots of delegates.

The Clinton campaign was quoted on Real Clear Politics this morning as saying they think April 26 will be the date they expect the race to become clear. It's hard to tell what they mean by that considering the nomination seems to be a moving target this year with the losing candidate (Sanders) failing to admit defeat. I'll get to Sanders stubborn in a minute. As it stands today, Hillary is exactly 671 delegates short of the 2,383 needed to clinch. With 2,042 delegates left, that means that while Bernie is not yet mathematically eliminated he would need to get, literally, 2 of every 3 votes left on the table. His hopes, it seems, hinge on somehow winning the pledged delegate count and then hoping superdelegates defect to the pledged delegate winner. I've seen a lot of questions from Twitter wondering whether any of Hillary's superdelegates may change their mind in states where Sanders won. This is highly unlikely--especially considering that Clinton is ahead by millions of votes in the popular vote. Superdelegates are heavy hitters who want to be seen backing the eventual nominee and overall most-popular candidate. They're free agents and a few may switch to Sanders but probably no widespread rebellion. These SDs came out early and are firm.

Anyway, April 26 will all depend on how Hillary does in New York the previous April 19 primary. If she wins by large margins, it very well could put her in position to go "over the top" with many delegates on the table in 5 states. Or, alternatively, we'll see a slow drip of individual states until the massive delegate pileup June 7. I've long had my clinch date selected as April 26. I'd still put the chances at better than 50-50. But it all depends. It's like waiting for the hourglass to run out and trying to guess when all the sand will be gone.

Of course, many Sanders supporters don't see it that way. And there's a fine line between fighting until the very end (admirable) and naively thinking you can pull out a victory (delusional). We're at the stage in the game right now where everyone is paying close attention to both candidates for signs of psychological gain. Hillary has pivoted to the General Election and Trump while still needing to cover her back and seal the deal on Sanders. Sanders is trying to appear powerful and keep his allies so he can get some leverage for the convention and forward. The question remains what happens to Sanders supporters when he's finally knocked out.

You can't really blame Sanders supporters for their mildly conspiracy theory sounding arguments. It's long been assumed this was exactly how the race would play out so Sanders has been considered the underdog even when he finally got taken seriously. On the other side, they watched a similar candidate who wasn't taken seriously go on to be 95% of the way to the nomination so if Trump can do it why not Sanders? This morning, Sanders supporter Robert Reich has a piece about why the mainstream media has marginalized Sanders. Reich stops short of calling it a conspiracy but does call them insiders--in the negative way.

In some ways, call this "the problem of the internet." It's far too easy to dismiss people with expert knowledge as "establishment" to be undermined. It's the theme of the campaign, really. Trump and Sanders both are running as outsiders. The problem with that, however, is that both those campaigns have been bogged down by amateur-ish failures to see what those with knowledge can. In Trump's case, it's a failure to tie down his delegates and work at the state level to secure necessary filings. (He's also relying on a strategy that requires alienating most of the electorate and hoping for near-impossible white turnout. A better manager would have stopped this as foolish.) In the Sanders camp, he failed to get the internal party support and endorsements that Hillary is riding and his campaign has failed to gain support in the South and with groups of voters that could have made the race more competitive.

Most of Sanders' support isn't coming from lifelong Democrats...those are Hillary supporters. Bernie's fans are independents and liberals who are less reliably "Democrat" anyway. Some of them didn't even vote for Obama--which probably tells you something. I'd love to see Sanders turn around and support Clinton in November, but I'm also aware that even if he does so that is no promise his voters will follow. Some of them, frankly, sound just like Republicans when they criticize her. Voters for Bernie are, of course, a mix. But the #StillSanders movement is not going to vote for Hillary no matter what. I argue they're not the core of the base anyway...it puts Hillary in a tough spot. Do you try to appeal to Sanders' supporters? I wouldn't completely blow them off, but it's clear she doesn't need them to win.

In many ways, Trump and Sanders are two sides of the same "angry voter" coin. The appeal of those two has been that they represent a push in a more radical direction. I've often said that Democrats were just better at containing our rebellion than Republicans were at containing theirs. In fact, Trump supporters probably have much more of a reason to riot if Trump ends up losing the nomination in a convention fight because he's the legitimate favorite within the party. You could also say that the inability of #NeverTrump to consolidate early around one alternative hurt their true within-the-party majority. But taking away the nomination from Trump at this point is dangerous. Trump supporters won at the ballot box...something Sanders supporters can't claim.

My frustration with folks like Reich who continue to tell Sanders supporters that "there's a chance" is that it's going to make the inevitable disappointment at Clinton prevailing that much more difficult. Why build up his voters--who often are new or ignorant of how the process works--by insisting that Sanders could still pull out the nearly-impossible? One could make the argument that it, too, is dangerous. Sanders voters are already disappointed in how our politics works (and doesn't). It's a "pick your poison" situation where a not-small chunk of voters was disgusted to start and now found someone to cling to. Perhaps next time the movement could actually win...my new line has been that if Bernie Sanders were a minority, was less negative, and had better strategy he could have won. Or could he? The problem for both Trump and Sanders supporters is the same--the alienation felt by those two sides isn't going to be solved by even their candidate winning. Our political system doesn't work that way. It requires compromise, building coalitions, broad proposals that can gain consensus, and participating inside the process rather than trying to work against it. The problem isn't so much Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump but that millions of Americans have tuned out of their own self-government and are unwilling to work with other Americans to build the future.

That very well may be the theme of Clinton's campaign for November. America is already great if we can all learn to work together.

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