Why Many Sanders Supporters Would Ditch Clinton

By | 5/23/2016 Leave a Comment

While Mrs. Clinton’s backers are confident – complacent, even – in their expectation that Mr. Sanders’ supporters will rally to her side in the event she wins the party’s nomination, the reality on the ground would suggest a far more fractured outcome. For while she’d be certain to win over a large number of them – a majority to be sure – a significant and potentially critical number would be no-shows in November. Here’s why:

2008 in Reverse

Eight years ago, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama slugged it out through a similarly long and contentious primary race, the same concerns about party unity and tribal divisions being voiced now were also being raised back then. Would Clinton’s millions of supporters swallow their pride and come out and vote for Obama in November, or would they sit it out, still smarting from the defeat of their favored candidate?

As it turned out, of course, they did come out – so why should Hillary Clinton and Democratic National Committee not expect the same thing to happen again? Because this time around – should Clinton clinch the nomination – it would be the establishment candidate that won the day, not the upstart insurgent one.

Obama’s campaign was built around an aspirational message; a break with the past, dreaming big dreams about what was possible if we all came together to make it happen. Hope, change, a future to believe in. Similarly, Sanders’ campaign has tapped into that same zeitgeist, inspiring millions with its call for “revolution” to reshape the status quo and reject the policies of the past. But in 2008, the majority of Clinton’s supporters were the party faithful who would ultimately vote for the Democratic candidate no matter who that might be, even if it meant a little nose-holding was required in the process.

In 2016, if the establishment candidate wins the day, so many of those who were attracted to Bernie Sanders to begin with – younger voters engaged in politics for the first time, the disenfranchised brought back into the process, the all-important independents – would feel no such party loyalty or obligation and would abandon Clinton in droves. What’s important to remember is that these voters – so critical to Obama’s victory in winning the White House eight years ago – are voting for the candidate, not the party. Take away their candidate and you take away their political raison d’etre.

The “Likeability” Factor

While Barack Obama certainly had his share of detractors back in 2008, few on the left would have described him as dislikeable. He was eloquent, intelligent, and delivered his message of compassion and inclusiveness with an air of earnestness and sincerity that was hard to fault. Regardless of how he may be perceived by some today, back then he seduced a great many with his image of a righteous man of principle on a crusade to rid the world of injustice. Even those who didn’t necessarily like him were unlikely to feel the opposite.

Clinton, on the other hand, enjoys no such luxury. If she came across in 2008 as stiff, humorless and over-scripted, the intervening eight years have done nothing to broaden her appeal. If anything, her worst traits have only been magnified and more deeply entrenched by the passage of time, and her attempts to project strength and presidential gravitas too often come across as arrogance and conceit.

If there’s one thing true in politics it’s that voters are always more drawn to candidates who they feel care about them. More so if they feel as though the candidate is actually one of them. But no matter how many times Clinton repeats her campaign slogan that she’s “fighting for us,” it too often rings hollow for a woman who’s widely perceived to be an establishment elite fighting solely for her own political ambitions.

The Trump Enigma

There is also a widely held belief among the DNC that Sanders’s supporters – irrespective of their feelings (or lack thereof) for Clinton – would be so horrified at the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency that they’ll put aside their differences to ensure that never happens. But while Trump certainly has a steep challenge between now and November in trying to attract significant numbers of Latinos and women over to his side, other demographics might not be so problematic.

Trump – like Sanders – is his party’s anti-establishment or so-called “insurgent” candidate. Unlike his rivals, he wasn’t cut from conservative cloth. He’s a political maverick who doesn’t toe the GOP line – only his own. His positions on social issues have straddled both sides of the divide in the past and he frequently changes them, at times seemingly on a whim. Consequently, he can’t easily be pinned down or defined. A dyed-in-the-wool career conservative would be easy to dismiss by a more left-of-center independent voter or blue-collar Democrat, but with Trump they may find enough points of agreement to make him a viable option.

While he’ll certainly remain anathema to some, the assumption by the Democratic Party that he’ll have no crossover appeal in November is a foolish one.

The upshot:

While the Clinton campaign has often expressed the importance of showing respect to Sanders’ supporters and of the need to woo them over to her side in the event that she’s becomes the party’s nominee, its actions have often been at odds with that sentiment.

For example, on May 4th in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Clinton respectfully declined to describe herself as the presumptive nominee. Yet a mere two weeks (and two primary losses) later, she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “I will be the nominee for my party, Chris. That is already done, in effect. There's no way that I won't be.”

However, there are several states still to play their part in the democratic process, and regardless of how the math adds up at the end of it all, Mrs. Clinton has essentially told the voters of those states that their voices don’t matter.

Hopes of winning over Sanders supporters while making such arrogant, dismissive declarations must surely be considered…well, “pie in the sky.”

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