Hillary Clinton’s Berning Problem

By | 4/26/2016 Leave a Comment
April 26 Primary results may solidify Clinton's nomination claim

If there’s been one predictable aspect to this year’s presidential race it’s been its relentless unpredictability. 

On the Republican side it all began last June as Donald J. Trump descended the escalator inside Trump Tower to officially announce his bid for White House. That first fiery speech kicked off a rollercoaster election season quite unlike anything we’ve witnessed in modern times.

For the Democrats, however, the beginning of the race was far more muted. In fact, it was a staid, sensible affair, and in comparison to the freewheeling theatrics of their opponents, frankly rather dull.

Not any more. 

No one in the media took a great deal of notice of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy to begin with. But, like a dark horse galloping ever faster, it gradually transformed into a hard-charging force to challenge what was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s cakewalk to the coronation…again. Just as in 2008, an unlikely outsider had risen from the margins to rain on her establishment-backed parade.

Having at first portrayed a somewhat dismissive attitude to the Vermont Senator’s insurgent campaign, the Clinton team eventually woke up to the very real threat his ever-growing popularity was posing. Contrasts were drawn, niceties were abandoned, and the televised Democratic debates became more volatile – and eminently more watchable.

But Clinton’s attitude to both the Senator and, more importantly, his supporters also began to take on a more condescending tone. There was the patronizing attitude towards his policy goals, which were dismissed as “pie in the sky,” and the equally patronizing words for younger voters who believed Sanders’ claims about her record on the fossil fuel industry: "I feel sorry sometimes for the young people who believe this, they don't do their own research," she said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

And then on MSNBC’s Town Hall debate on April 25th, she was asked what she might do to earn the support of Sanders supporters were she to win the nomination. Her expression made it appear that she was almost offended by the effrontery of being asked such a question in the first place, and her response was to then reel off, in swaggeringly arrogant fashion, her larger share of the popular vote, her larger number of pledged delegates, and that fact that she was “winning” as reasons why she felt no need to on-board any of Sanders’ proposals or indeed do anything to reach out and appeal to his supporters.  

Her utter contempt at the idea that she should have to do anything at all to receive the votes of millions of people who currently do not want to see her elected leader almost beggars belief. Her sense of entitlement extends, it appears, to the entire Democratic electorate, whether they like it or not. “You’re a Democrat, you’re supposed to vote for me – period,” is the message she’s sending.

Perhaps, if she does become the nominee, she’ll offer a more conciliatory approach as the calendar moves towards the general election where she’ll be scrabbling for every vote she can get. And perhaps some of the millennials (and older) that she's currently behaving so imperious towards will accept that and give her their vote in spite of themselves. But it’s also likely that many won’t.

Many predicted a similar scenario in 2008, but in the end the party coalesced and voted as one. But there’s a big difference this time around. Back then it was the idealists, a great many of them younger voters energized by a dreamer who offered lofty goals, who won in the end. And the Clinton pragmatists, being pragmatic, voted for him because he was the Democrat, even if he wasn’t of their choosing. This time, if the idealists lose, there’ll be no well of practical realism to fall back on. Their dreams will have been shattered and their enthusiasm will evaporate.

The upshot:

Many will say that the potential of a Republican ticket led by Donald Trump will be enough to drive the necessary numbers out to the polls and secure a victory in November. Trump, they would say, could never win. But to those people I would simply say this: If there’s been one predictable aspect to this year’s presidential race it’s been its relentless unpredictability. 

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