The corporate commentariat anointed Hillary Clinton the winner of the fight for Democratic Party presidential nomination less than 24 hours after Bernie Sanders declared his candidacy. Nate Cohn of the New York Times writes, “The left wing of the Democratic Party just isn’t big enough to support a challenge to the left of a mainstream liberal Democrat like Mrs. Clinton” and Bill Sher of Politico notes, “With Clinton generally polling around 60 percent among Democrats, having four candidates divvy up the remaining tally is a recipe for a Hillary coronation.” Even the usually careful, data-driven site FiveThirtyEight.com exclaims that Sanders “doesn’t have a shot” since “polls show Sanders doesn’t match up well against Clinton. He trails her by nearly 57 percentage points nationally, 54 percentage points in Iowa and 40 percentage points in New Hampshire.”
Here’s why three big reasons why they’re wrong.
1. Sanders Is a Socialist, not a Liberal
Why does that matter? Because as a socialist he has historically won support from traditionally Republican constituencies. This was true both when he ran for re-election as the mayor of Burlington and when he went to Congress. In fact, he survived the 1994 GOP onslaught that installed Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House precisely because his cross-party class-based appeal allowed him to win over a significant portion of the GOP base:
“On election night , Sanders’ narrow lead in his traditional urban bastions seemed to augur defeat once the more conservative rural and small-town vote was counted. But the following morning brought another surprise: Sanders also prevailed in the traditionally Republican small towns and farms of Vermont. For the first time, Sanders broadened his political base statewide.”
So Nate Cohn’s observation that “the Democratic primary electorate is … less educated, more religious — often older, Southern or nonwhite — voters who are far from uniformly liberal” is actually an advantage, not a disadvantage, for the non-liberal socialist Sanders.
2. The Race Hasn’t Even Started!
“Barring something unusual or otherwise unexpected, [Clinton] is well positioned for the … Democratic primaries. … No other announced or potential Democratic candidate has come close to threatening Clinton’s front-runner status since the campaign began…” These words were written in late 2007 by Gallup pollsters who were very confident that Clinton’s double-digit leads over her nearest rivals all but guaranteed her the nomination. Hotly contested high-stakes races are often a series of “unusual or otherwise unexpected” events. Who could have foreseen that a neophyte with a non-existent Washington résumé named Barack Hussein Obama would beat the Clinton machine and all the entrenched networks and insider interests that stood behind it? How many of these wiseacres claiming Sanders is destined to lose got it right the last time Hillary Clinton ran?
To be blunt: it’s downright idiotic to act as if Clinton is the inevitable nominee based on her current front-runner status given her self-destruction as the front-runner in 2007-2008. Clinton is a formidable candidate but only insofar as she doesn’t face a strong, compelling competitor. That’s why she beat whackjob Rick Lazio for New York’s Senate seat so handily and why she lost the nomination fight and her dignity in 2007-2008.
3. The Enthusiasm Gap
Clinton’s got the money, but Sanders has the enthusiasm. Consider the following report from the South Carolina Democratic convention:
As Democratic leaders and activists gathered here Saturday for their annual state party convention, they chatted in corridors and at coffee stands about Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her campaign staffers buzzed around with clipboards to sign up volunteers. To many, the promise of the first female president seemed exhilarating.
But the candidate was missing. In Clinton’s absence, her longtime booster, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, did his duty again. But the response from the 1,000 convention delegates and activists was lukewarm. And when McAuliffe signaled for a video message from Clinton to play, there was a technical glitch. Then silence.
“It’s on her e-mail somewhere,” shouted one man from the back of the convention hall, referring to Clinton’s controversial use of a private e-mail server as secretary of state.
What soon followed were fresh reminders that, although Clinton is as dominant a front-runner for the nomination as any non-incumbent in recent history, the hearts of party activists are not yet hers.
Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont toying with a primary challenge to Clinton, brought Democrats to their feet with a fiery sermon about the hollowed-out middle class and the rise of an “oligarchic form of society” controlled by billionaires.
The reception Sanders received — several delegates called him “electric” — surprised Rep. James E. Clyburn, the state’s most powerful Democrat, who took it all in from the back of the hall.
“I really did not anticipate that from Bernie,” Clyburn said. “It says something about people’s thirst and hunger for a real message.” …
At Saturday’s convention, once the audio-visual equipment was fixed, Clinton’s video played. She repeated the early themes of her campaign, saying, “South Carolinians need a champion, and I want to be that champion.”
[D]elegates seemed to be half-listening.
Another piece of admittedly anecdotal evidence comes from the SandersForPresident Reddit community which accumulated 10,000 new subscribers in the 48 hours leading up to Sanders’ announcement of his candidacy:
After the subscriber boom this Wednesday, which is still continuing as I type this, I decided to see how we stacked up compared to other subreddits for presidential hopefuls.
r/Hillary – 116 r/TedCruz – 341 r/RandPaul – 2,934 r/Marco_Rubio – 40
r/ElizabethWarren – 677 r/ChrisChristie – 74 Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley – No dedicated subreddit.
I think I was most surprised to see Rand Paul’s subreddit so low. When he first announced his presidency, media pundits went on about how appealing he was to millenials, but it looks like they haven’t come out for him nearly as much as they are for Bernie (or Rand’s father for that matter).
I know reddit is just one website and doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual voting population, but Bernie Sanders has made a bigger splash on social media websites like it, as well as Facebook and Twitter, than any other candidate so far. He’s been one of the top trenders since Wednesday. Honestly, it’s a mania. I’ve liked Bernie for years, but even I’m shocked to see how his popularity has exploded. I really think he’s tapped into something larger than himself.
SandersForPresident has already organized itself into 50 different state-based subcommunities to begin campaigning and BernieSanders.com raised something like $500,000 in the hours between his announcement and his appearance on Ed Schulz’s MSNBC show. Quite a few of the posters in that community are not even of voting age but they are excited and anxious to work for Sanders.
Pundits may dismiss the above as an “online only” phenomenon but again, have these people learned anything from Obama’s 2008 campaign in which online activity and millennials (and younger) played such a critical role?
None of this is to suggest that Sanders is a shoe-in for the nomination, but the reality is that this race is Hillary Clinton’s to lose. Past experience is not the perfect predictor of future performance, but it’s pretty important to FiveThirtyEight.com. Based on both of their past experiences, it’s safe to say that Bernie Sanders has built his career of defeating Democrats and Republicans alike by beating long odds while Hillary Clinton has never won a seriously contested race.