Author’s note: as we are faced with the prospect of another Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, it is worth revisiting my look at the ugly side of Sandersism from 2016, this being the first of two parts.
As Americans vote today from New Jersey to California, they should not forget what happened last month, when Sanders supporters entered the Democratic Party’s Nevada state convention disorganized and uninformed and caused a mini-riot when things (accordingly) didn’t go their way and went the way the voters of Nevada’s caucuses originally intended instead, with Sandernistas throwing things and even sending death threats to the head of Nevada’s Democratic Party; Sanders responded with a myopic, irresponsible, disgusting defense of their behavior, one unfit for a candidate of high office. All this is discussed below, in Part I of II pieces on the drama in Nevada.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse June 7, 2016
Chase Stevens / Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP
HAIFA — The sad, upsetting episode surrounding Bernie Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters’ behavior on everything related to the recent Nevada Democratic state convention tell you a lot about who Sanders, his campaign, and his fans are and what they stand for, and who they are and what the stand for will be detailed in Part II. But it is clear that, trailing far behind in both pledged delegates and votes in a system whose rules were known well in advance and failing to get what they wanted by winning enough votes, Sanders and his minority camp can be characterized as being generally non-violent, but sometimes slightly-violent, political terrorists, using the threat of creating mass disruption in Nevada and seemingly at July’s upcoming Democratic National Convention to try to extract political concessions from the Party using intimidation—essentially non-violent or lightly-violent terrorism—that they could not extract during the voting process.
Sanders… or Trump? And a Sanders Delusion Syndrome
Many said that with the rise, fueled by angry self-entitled white people, of a delusional, populist candidate who is attempting to hijack one of America’s great parties and push it in a direction that is far away from where most Americans find themselves, we would see this party rip itself apart, erupt into chaos, and set up a messy convention fight for July, meaning it would be all but certain that this party would limp into the general election and lose to its rival.
Surprisingly, it was that people were possibly right about what might be happening now, but picked the wrong party. Yes, months ago there was a strong sense that the Republicans might very well destroy themselves. However, I realized and wrote early in March, after the final Republican debate, that it was clear the Republican Party “Establishment” had resigned itself to Trump, joining the plurality and perhaps even the eventual majority of their voters. I later noted how all the talk of a contested/brokered convention was also fantasizing about a highly unlikely scenario. In both pieces, I cautioned about how the GOP was clearly coming together, that Democrats could not afford to risk a protracted battle at a time when Clinton was clearly for some time going to be the nominee (and as of yesterday has the support of enough delegates to clinch the nomination, and primarily because far more Democrats preferred her over Sanders), and that Sanders and his supporters had the potential to do real damage to Clinton and the Democratic Party (thereby helping Trump) depending on how they chose to behave going forward. While there were some recent indications that Bernie might be willing to reign himself in and do what’s best for the Party and the country, the most recent indicators are that he will not, and especially the incidents in Nevada and Camp Bernie’s reaction to them have me intensely worried that Bernie’s remaining role will be that of an unwitting, internal Democratic saboteur that just could be the difference between victory and defeat for Clinton and the Democratic party in November in what increasingly looks like will be a close race.
But we must go back to the night of the Nevada Democratic caucuses to understand why I feel this way and why this entire drama is extremely symptomatic of Sanders, his campaign, his supporters, and what I will be terming Sanders Delusion Syndrome in Part II (I’m being serious here, and not trying to just get a laugh: there is an extreme level of emotional reality denial joined with narcissism here that I think deserves to be singled out, much like Bush Derangement Syndrome and Obama Derangement Syndrome, in which partisans become obsessed with blaming those people or their policies for almost everything, or with making wild assumptions about their motives; the whole Nevada fiasco will present a springboard to be able to discuss the Syndrome later).
From the Nevada Caucuses to the Nevada State Convention
That night of the Nevada caucuses on February 20th, Clinton won the contest by a good chunk over 5% of the county precincts, in such a way that, per those results, she should have been on track to receive 20 of the 35 pledged delegates going to the Democratic National Convention to Bernie’s 15 of 35. But the process only began there; the day of the caucuses, 23 delegates were awarded (13 to Clinton, 10 to Sanders) based directly on the results of the caucuses. The remaining 12 pledged delegates were to be awarded in May, at the state convention, but before that, there were county-level conventions in April, and a whole lot of Clinton delegates (more than half) didn’t show up to the Clark County convention, bu far the most populous county and where Las Vegas is located, where most of the state’s delegates were up for grabs, and where Clinton beat Sanders handily in February. Ultimately, though Clinton won the county by nearly 10 percentage points, Sanders’ delegates outnumbered Clinton’s by about 600 at the country convention in April. Based on good turnout there for Sanders and bad turnout for Clinton at this contentious county convention, a new estimate had Clinton edging out Sanders only 18-17 in terms of pledged delegates statewide, since the side with the majority of the delegates at the state convention would be able to win two more delegates (7) than the other side (5) out of the remaining 12 based on rules as to how those delegates would be allocated during that convention.
It is important to note that Sanders, his team, and his supporters were happy to use technicalities involving county-level delegate turnout to potentially pick off delegates away national delegates from Clinton in a way that did not reflect the voting in the caucuses, but that this was also fair game within the rules.
The decisions about those delegates in question would only be made in May, at the state convention.
And this is where all hell broke loose.
Last-Minute, Disorganized Attempts to Change the Rules
Leading up to the May state convention, Sanders supporters tried in court to force the Nevada Democratic party to adopt changes to the rules for the convention, but a judge dismissed their lawsuit, saying that it wasn’t for the courts to adjudicate a political party’s internal disputes. Specifically, there was confusion about a deadline for running for state office in time to be in power at the state convention; Sanders supporters who had missed the deadline set by the party alleged that the Party did not properly notify them and wanted to be permitted to run the day of the convention. The judge rejected this claim also, noting that the April 25th deadline was set at a meeting in which both Clinton and Sanders supporters were present, and that is was Sanders supporters who were responsible for the confusion because of incorrect information they had provided to their people, coming from an unadopted draft of the rules, not the actual rules. The judge also more or less dismissed concerns that the Sanders people had that certain state party committee members were breaking the rules by choosing to extend their terms, noting that the convention could hold a voice vote to legitimize such moves and still be legal. Sanders supporters were also mobilizing petitions to change the rules of the state’s Democratic Party and its convention.
Specifically, an e-mail chain highlights the disarray on the Sanders’ side: rather than taking information directly from the state party’s website, with the currently adopted rules posted and easily accessible, the wrong information was provided by Sanders supporters, as I noted above. This meant that several people who wanted to stand for important convention and state party positions from the Sanders camp were ineligible to run because they had missed the required nomination deadline. Erin Bilbray, a Sanders superdelegate, angrily wrote in an e-mail chain (subject line created by Bilbray: “Is this about ego or what is best for the party”) to the state’s party chairwoman, Roberta Lange, that “This is exactly how we disenfranchise voters,” but Lange calmly explained that it was supporters of sanders who spread the wrong information and that the established deadline would stand.
Lange also noted that Bilbray—a longtime party official—had had years to bring these and other concerns to her but were making her inquiries way too late in the game for the rules to be changed now: “I find your accusations about the SCC rules particularly concerning. That section of our rules largely dates back to at least the 2008 convention and has been included in the 2010, 2012, 2014 and now 2016 rules. You have demonstrated no objection until now despite serving on our e-board that entire time.”
Sanders supporters in particular wanted to change the rules to limit the power of Lange as party chairwoman, who, in terms set mostly in 2008, would have enormous discretion as to calling the voice votes and determining if more meticulous methods of measuring support at the state convention were necessary. Additionally, any amendments during the convention would need to be approved by two-thirds of the delegates present, and with the Hillary delegates slightly edging out the Bernie delegates, this would not be a way for Sanders people to be able to enact their agenda.
The Sanders campaign later alleged that “At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place,” but the convention rules were given to both campaigns, publicly available weeks before the convention, and had basically been the same for the past three presidential election cycles.
Unconventional Convention Drama
The fine folks at PolitiFact issued a great-fact check regarding the convention, so much of this summary is adapted from their review.
The convention began forty minutes late, and Lange adopted by voice vote an acceptance of state convention delegate head count totals showing slightly more Clinton than Sanders supporters. Sanders supports loudly protested this, ran towards the stage and Lange, flinging insults and vulgar curse words in a verbal assault directed and Lange and the Party officials. Here (as in many other cases, as I have written before), Sanders supporters seem to have had trouble with arithmetic, because both the initial and final counts of delegates showed that more Clinton delegates were present than Sanders delegates. So though Sanders supporters were apparently louder, Lange knew that there were more Clinton “yays” to adopt the count than Sanders “nays” and did her job correctly as charwoman in not allowing a louder minority of Sanders disruptors to dispute basic math about who had more supporters present.
When Sen. Barbara Boxer of California delivered an address on stage on behalf of Clinton, she was booed loudly. “It was a scary situation,” she noted, “It was frightening. I was on the stage. People were six feet away from me. If I didn’t have a lot of security, I don’t know what would have happened,” also maintaining that “I feared for my safety and I had a lot of security around me, I’ve never had anything like this happen.”
The Sanders campaign also incorrectly claimed that Lange did not accept valid petitions to change the rules at the convention, but Lange noted that some were received by the convention board, but that some of these did not receive the 20% of all the present delegates’ signatures that were required. In addition, the period to consider petitions was during an opportunity for people to speak before the formal adoption of the rules. Three Sanders supporters spoke during this period, including Bilbray, and none of them proposed amendments. Once the rules were formally adopted, the Sanders people who were working on the petitions ceased their efforts, noting they had missed their window.
When the credential committee—evenly divided between Clinton and Sanders supporters—released its official report on delegates totals showing 1,695 Clinton delegates present leading 1,662 Sanders delegates—a 33-delegate margin—the Sanders people, knowing this report meant that the 2 delegates at stake would go to Clinton, meaning the final tally would be Clinton 20 pledged delegates, Sanders 15 pledged delegates, instead of 18-17 in favor of Clinton, more protestations began (again, basic math is a problem here for Team Bernie).
That 33-delegate lead for Clinton became a rallying point for the Sanders people because 58 of their delegates had been disqualified. They came from a list of 64 names submitted by the Clinton campaign that said the people on the list were not even registered Democrats as of May 1st, the deadline for someone to register as a Party member and still be eligible to be a delegate at the state’s Democratic convention, or were otherwise questionable. While 6 of the 64 people were deemed to be eligible, the credentials committee, which spent much of the convention investigating the list, could either not find name and address information for the remainder or the names belonged to people who were not registered as Democrats before the deadline (8 Clinton delegates were likewise disqualified). Whether the Sanders people like it or not, simply bringing anyone they want to a convention because they support Bernie Sanders does not entitle them to be a delegate, no matter how much noise and disruption accompanies them. But in this case, only 8 of the delegates the committee did not seat had actually shown up to the convention, so even if all the names on the list were accepted, Clinton would still have had 25 more delegates at the convention because of this turnout, and would therefore still have walked away with the 2 pledged delegates in question, meaning she would still have gotten 20 delegates to Bernie’s 15 heading into the national convention.
That’s right, Bernie supporters acted this inexcusably for a situation that would not have changed the result if they had gotten what they wanted.
Once again, we see supporters of Bernie Sanders who have no love for the Democratic Party feel they are entitled to have their say in the Democratic Party’s nomination contest even if they do not follow the established rules.
Which means all the drama was impotently silly, over a result that matched the voting from the February caucuses as intended. But the drama got even worse.
Physicality and Death Threats
In fact, thing got so bad, Lange was even forced to take a security detail just to go to the bathroom. Sanders supporters even pushed against the security barriers separating the crowd from the stage as they were screaming and using obscenities in a threatening manner, even throwing things (possibly even chairs) around room.
With so many Sander supporters being disruptive, confrontational, loud, and belligerent, and with the convention running hours past the time allotted by the hotel where the convention was being held (meaning local security details were about to end their shifts), local police and the hotel security officials told Lange that she had to end the convention immediately out of concerns that there would not be enough security to guarantee the safety of everyone there. So the convention was then ended, to an absurd chorus from Sanders supporters claiming it was done so “illegally,” with Lange even being struck with an object thrown by a Sanders supporter while she was closing the convention.
But it did not stop there: there were death threats against Lange and her family, including a grandchild. By Monday, she had “received more than 1,000 calls since Saturday night and as many as three text messages per minute. The threats, which came from men and women from across the country, were haunting and personal.” The harassment has continued well after that, too.
Remember, this was over 2 delegates out of the minimum 2,383 delegates required to win the nomination out of 4,765 total delegates, or less than 0.1% of the delegates needed to win and about 0.04% of the total delegates, 2 delegates which, if the actual results of the Nevada caucuses are given primary consideration, even putting the rules aside (which they weren’t), were supposed to go to Hillary, anyway. Yes, Sanders supporters thought they would have an advantage based on the Clark County convention, but in the end, Clinton’s supporters were more organized at the state convention and there were more of them who were qualified who actually showed up, giving her the edge as far as those 2 national-level delegates were concerned, consistent with how actual voters voted during the caucuses.
Objectively, then, there is nothing for Sanders or his supporters to be angry about as far as the process or anything unfair happening, and the idea that they are mad at the party for failing to change the rules at the last minute to favor their side because they did not understand the rules and because they were not properly organized to be able to do so is absurd; they should be mad at themselves for being out-organized, and should be ashamed of themselves for explicitly trying to overturn and spit in the face of the will of the voters who caucused in Nevada. At no point is there self-reflection from the bulk of Sanders supporters, from his campaign, from the candidate himself. It seems that whenever the outcome that the Sanders campaign desires does not occur, Sanders and his people seek to blame everyone and everything else except themselves and their campaign and the fact that they did not get more votes than Clinton.
It is impossible to liken this to anything else other than a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum when he doesn’t get what he wants, when, as an example, a kindergarten class voting for what movie to watch doesn’t pick the one he wants to watch, and he wants to watch now, so he screams and throws things at the TV…
Bernie’s Terrible Response
People outside the Bernie Sanders crowd largely expected Sanders to condemn his supporters’ wholly inexcusable behavior. Instead, they were sorely disappointed, when initially he did not even respond to questions about his supporters’ behavior, and then eventually responded 3 days later with a written statement that to say fell far short of reasonable expectations would be an understatement.
Sanders’ statement was 490 words, consisting of 5 paragraphs and 4 additional bullet points. The first two paragraphs attacked the Democratic Party and repeated many of the typical talking points of Sanders without addressing the issue of the threatening, intimidating, disruptive, and (admittedly low-level yet still) violent behavior of his supporters. In the third paragraph, he rejected the criticism of his campaign as “nonsense,” made a general condemnation of violence in a single sentence without actually acknowledging that any of this supporters had done anything wrong, and then began the next sentence with a “But…” and went on to highlight 2 incidents of violence directed at his campaign months ago (“shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked”). The 4th paragraph then continued with more criticism of the Democratic Party and then criticized the Nevada State Convention, followed by 4 bullet points that the Sanders campaign felt highlighted unfair treatment of it and their supporters at the state convention. The final, 5th, short paragraph was entirely devoted to discussing further perceived unfair treatment in Nevada outside of the state convention.
It is important to realize how disgusting and pathetic this statement—largely and correctly condemned as self-serving and inadequate—was as a response to indisputably wrong and inappropriate conduct on the part of his supporters. For one thing, literally 1 sentence out of more than 20, a sentence amounting to 28 words out of 490 total words (or about 5.7% of all words), dealt with condemning violence. The following sentence that addressed violent incidents directed against his campaign took up 40 words, a little under 8.2% of the total words, and contained nearly 43% more words than the sentence condemning violence in general. It is also important to point out there is no comparing mass disruption at a state convention—clearly encouraged by a top Sanders campaign official named Joan Kato, formerly the Nevada State Director for the Bernie Sanders campaign and now and at the time she encouraged disruption the National Delegates Director for the Bernie Sanders campaign—to incidents that occurred in isolation, were not during an official political event, and had no clear ties to the rival campaign (though of course those incidents are also deplorable, just of a nature that is in these and other important ways different). Not one word (0%) specifically or directly addressed the actual behavior of his voters. But 403 words (over 82.2%) either defended his campaign or either explicitly or implicitly criticized the Democratic Party in general, the Nevada Democratic Party, or the Nevada Democratic Party’s state convention.
Furthermore, the 4 bullet points were riddled with falsehoods:
- “The chair of the convention announced that the convention rules passed on voice vote, when the vote was a clear no-vote. At the very least, the Chair should have allowed for a headcount.”
As PolitiFact pointed out, however, the Chairwoman Lange was allowed large discretion within the rules to rule on voice votes, despite Sanders’ supporters failed attempts to change this. Both the preliminary and final counts of delegates showed that Clinton delegates slightly outnumbered Sanders delegates, and just being louder and more obnoxious does not mean that your vote is given more weight. The chair was aware that Clinton supporters were the majority and, during a convention that went about four hours past its allotted time, decided not to waste time on counting votes when the clear if slight edge was with Clinton supporters. Again, this was entirely within rules that the Sanders campaign tried and failed to change.
- “The chair allowed its Credentials Committee to en mass rule that 64 delegates were ineligible without offering an opportunity for 58 of them to be heard. That decision enabled the Clinton campaign to end up with a 30-vote majority.”
Again, Sanders and his people struggle with math; as explained, only 8 of the 58 were present, so that decision at that time to reject the 58 Sanders delegates absolutely did not “enable” Clinton to have a 30-vote majority, which was actually a 33-vote majority; all that decision did was keep the margin at 33 votes instead of 25 votes, since, again, only 8 of the rejected delegates were present and would have been counted if that decision had not been made by the Committee. It is possible that some of the other 58 rejected delegates who were actually registered Democrats by the May 1st deadline who were rejected because of unverifiable names/addresses could have provided that information if they had been present and may possibly have been counted. By, just like Clinton’s campaign and supporters suffered from and were responsible for turnout problems at the Clark County convention, Sanders’ campaign and supporters here were responsible for their turnout problems and paid a price for that, which is Politics 101. In any event, Hillary had more verifiably qualified delegates than Sanders at the state convention, hence the 2 delegates that were in serious question were awarded to her. Pretty basic math, once again…
- “The chair refused to acknowledge any motions made from the floor or allow votes on them.”
While it is not clear what motions specifically this is referring to, it is clear that the Sanders campaign tried multiple times and multiple ways to amend rules and failed to do so through the proper channels available to it; the convention at that point was there for specific business, not to engage in a long debate about procedure, especially considering the convention ran about four hours longer than anticipated; those debates had been occurring for months and the convention was the time to make decisions and move on. Furthermore, the chair was given full discretion, per the rules, to make decisions on what floor motions to consider, and the Sanders camp began the proceedings by being hostile, loud, disruptive and threatening, and by shouting vulgar curses, which is hardly conducive to creating an environment where the chair would feel inclined to expand debate.
- “The chair refused to accept any petitions for amendments to the rules that were properly submitted.”
Again, as mentioned, the Sanders people failed to propose their amendments during the proper window to propose such amendments, even though 3 Sanders supporters spoke during this window. And any amendments would have required a two-thirds threshold of approval, which would not have happened since the more than 3,300 delegates were almost evenly split. And of the few petitions received, some did not even have the required number of signatures.
What is seen in these 4 bullet points is a combination of disregard for and ignorance of the rules, a feeling that the Sanders campaign should get what it wants regardless of the rules and regardless of the fact that they were a minority, not the majority, and a willingness to level serious accusations using false information and devoid of context, all while in response to a series of incidents in which Sanders supporters behaved crudely, rudely, disruptively, obscenely, even violently.
Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the Sanders campaign.
The appropriate response—when any candidate’s supporters act out obscenely and with physical violence however mild, even if just throwing fruit—is to forcefully condemn such action in person and not just with a press statement. Sanders did not even feel this merited a personal in-person response, and clearly felt he and his campaign and supporters were the victim here, even after Lange received death threats. Furthermore, his statement practically justified his supporters’ misbehavior with its lopsided focus on their grievances rather than their actions. When addressing violence, the proper primary responses is never “well, we were angry;” that goes for rape, murder, riots, you name it; and it goes for throwing things at state party chairwoman at a convention, too. In many of those situations (admittedly not so much with rape) it is often important to understand the motivations of the people who engage in such acts. But first and foremost, when the violent act occurs, the focus needs to be on the violence itself its victims, and how wrong it is.
If it was not for Trump lowering the bar of appropriate behavior to such unprecedented depths on the Republican side of the contest, this Nevada story would have gotten dramatically more attention, and Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters would have been far more emphatically condemned. Such is one of the less talked about of the side-effects of the human political disaster that is Donald Trump: not only does his own behavior open the door to even more inappropriate action in the future, not only has Trump legitimized his own unprecedented types of behavior, but he has made it so that bad behavior that would normally be scrutinized intensely, but seems less outrageous than Trump’s antics, falls more under the radar, raising the acceptability-level of a whole host of other behaviors that do not rise to Trump-level outrages and desensitizing Americans and the media to these outrages.
In any event, the claims of Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, that party elites “hijacked the process on the floor” and were “ignoring the regular procedure and ramming through what they wanted to do” were rated simply as “false” by PolitiFact.
Read in Part II of Sanders Political Terrorism: Nevada Drama Pretty Much Sums Up Sanders, His Campaign & Supporters about how all this is a microcosm of the the whole Sanders “movement.”
Here are many more articles by Brian E. Frydenborg. If you think your site or another would be a good place for this content please do not hesitate to reach out to him! Feel free to share and repost on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter (you can follow him there at @bfry1981)