The Death Throes of the Failed Sandernista Revolution

The formal war is ending, and tonight is almost certainly the last time Sanders can put up any serious resistance in a delegate-rich state.  His Waterloo will be Michigan.  The only real question is if Sanders surrenders gracefully like General Lee at Appomattox or pulls a Saddam Hussein and allows his forces to melt away in order to mount a vicious guerrilla campaign once the big formal battles are over.

By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebookTwitter @bfry1981 March 10, 2020 (this was written, if not fully edited, before results came in tonight); see related articles: The Best Guide to Super Tuesday (no, seriously): Biden’s Got This (and the Nomination), Democrats Look Disastrous, But Biden May Yet Save Them from Themselves Starting in South Carolina, Sandernista Political Terrorism II: Sanders Derangement Syndrome, the Liberal Tea Party, & How Nevada Riot Pretty Much Sums Up Team Bernie, and The Sandernista Political Revolution Handbook: A Matchup Game of Bernie Sanders’ Talking Points & Those of His Fans/Supporters

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

WASHINGTON AND ARLINGTON—As I have noted repeatedly before, the lack of self-awareness among Bernie Sanders and his Sandernista would-be-fellow revolutionaries is among the most irritating of their (many) irritating traits.  In particular, at this stage in the quest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination (or, as many Bernie Sanders supporters would think of it, the quest to hijack, destroy internally, and replace the Democratic Party with a democratic socialist party), one thing that strikes me is how they constantly act as if they are the only group with legitimate grievances. This has been something has long bothered me, but as Bernieworld becomes increasingly unhinged, they act as if they have a monopoly on disappointment, frustration, anger, and rage within the left.  They are indignant about how the media, other candidates, and other supporters talk about and frame them and their candidate, yet rarely pause to consider if, let alone acknowledge that, other candidates and their supporters have similar feelings directed at not just the media but back at Bernieworld (and, yes, the other major candidates, from Sen. Elizabeth Warren to former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, have made clear that Bernie bros are in a category all their own on the left).  A group that in part lives off of their rage at what they term “The Establishment” and at any and all criticism directed their way—no matter how small—cannot seem to even fathom that they themselves may also cause offense, be unfair, should adjust how they speak and act towards others.  In fact, the mere suggestion of this seems to send them into even more rage, with their best reaction usually righteous indignation.


Reality, Ever the Enemy of Sanders and his Sandernistas

As is the case regarding so much with Bernie Sanders, his supporters, and Sandersism, there is their talk and then there is the massive gap between talk and reality. 

In 2016, his arguments were largely disproven by the dramatic way in which voters rejected their premises, with 3.7+ million more voters preferring Clinton, and this was with 14 states (28% of all states) holding caucuses, undemocratic and unrepresentative abominations that greatly depress turnout and overrepresent the enthusiastic and those without certain burdens (like having kids).  The net political effect of these caucuses was to dramatically inflate voting margins in Bernie’s favor, as Sanders blew Clinton out of the water in 12 of those 14 caucus states and only lost relatively narrowly in the other 2.  To ram this point home, in 2 of these states that Sanders won (Nebraska and Washington state) among the 12 of the caucuses he won, Clinton even won nonbinding primaries (or normal votes) that had far greater turnout.  Sanders, then, would have almost certainly have lose some caucus states he won if they were primaries (which happened in 2020 with Minnesota and Maine ditching caucuses) and his margin would definitely have been much lower even in the caucus states he won and in caucuses in general.  In other words, the 3.7-million-vote margin of victory for Clinton would have been significantly larger with representative primaries and the gap between Clinton and Sanders would actually be larger with voters than the numbers we have from 2016 would suggest.

In 2016, Democratic turnout was dramatically lower (30.6 million) than in 2008 (37.1 million).  Basically,  Hillary Clinton—one of the top faces of the Democratic Party for decades—soundly beat Sanders because Democrats liked her for president much more than Bernie, and the idea that brand new voters were going to join the Democratic Party to shift it dramatically to the left into democratic socialist territory, that Bernie was going to be the inspiration for this high turnout and new voters flies in this face of these considerations.. Especially with young people, that turnout did not happen.  Instead, Democrats chose a far more traditional candidate (though revolutionary in her identity as far as her being a woman, the first major-party female nominee for president in American history) rather that an insurgent and a campaign that sought to overthrow the system as a whole.  Democrats actually like the Democratic Party, and Clinton garnered close over 3.7 million more votes than Sanders even with the caucus factor diluting Clinton’s margins.  So, while as a woman, Clinton could claim something of an outsider status, too, her politics were pretty institutional and mainstream in many ways and especially compared to Sanders.  Clinton was also one of the top faces of the Democratic Party for decades and handily outperformed Bernie with Democrats, so the idea that the American left overall hates the Democratic Party, hates its “Establishment” figures like, say, Hillary, or Barack Obama, or Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or Whip Jim Clyburn, simply has no factual basis.  Bernie campaigned against the Democratic Party itself as well as its leaders, but it turns out Democratic voters like them just fine.  So the notion that Bernie Sanders himself is somehow going to drive historic turnout—when turnout was way down in 2016 from 2008 when when Sanders was one of two major contenders in a race in which Sanders got beat by some 3.7 million votes even with dramatically lower turnout—is patently absurd and has no logical or empirical basis to support it.

For the sake of argument, though, let us even pretend that the exact same arguments were not made in 2016, plainly for all to hear, and that they were not dramatically disproven in a Democratic nomination contest that underrepresented Clinton’s support in 28% of all state contests that held caucuses.  Let’s pretend we are in a brave new world (Sanders and his people like to make the claim that the electorate has dramatically changed in just the past few years) and look at how his political performance in contests so far in 2020 matches his claims; let’s see how much his bark matches his bite.

Premise/Assumption: People were tired of the Democratic Party and the way it did things.  Instead, they would choose a new, revolutionary campaign, one with which they could smash the “Establishment.”

Reality: There has so far only been one state where Bernie Sanders did not receive fewer votes than more proud-to-be-actual-Democrats Democrats combined: his home state of Vermont, the only state in 2020 thus far where he has received more than 50% of the vote. Despite the narrative that the alt-left “progressive” non-Democrat leftists would sell, the simple reality is that Democrats overall were happy with a number of candidates in the 2020 field and with the Party overall; Speaker Nancy Pelosi is popular with a vast majority of Democrats, too.  What’s better than polls and approval ratings, thought, is votes, and with Sanders receiving less than 30% of the overall vote so far, voters have overwhelming preferred existing Democrats to those who want to smash the Democratic Party. In most states, Sanders has been in 20s, a few in the teens, and some in 30s as far as vote/caucus delegate percent-share, but in no states prior to today besides his home state of Vermont and Nevada has this threshold passed 37%. The American far-left loves Sanders, but, as I have pointed out before, this is a country where only six states have more liberals than conservatives. No, this is not a man building a broad movement that can succeed on a national level, just a fraction of a faction that can disrupt and destabilize the left but has little talent or ability beyond that.

Premise/assumption: Bernie Sanders is a generational transformational figure who will inspire turnout at historic, unprecedented levels; his claim to having this ability is the central premise to his argument of a.) how he can win the nomination, b.) how he can win the general election, and c.) somehow, without ever actually explaining it, how he will govern and how he will get his agenda passed amidst intense opposition (the oft-heard “million of people in the streets” phrase).

Reality: Even when Bernie won states in this 2020 cycle—other than his own state of Vermont—loud and proud members of the actual Democratic Party (Bernie is still an independent) got far more votes combined (yes, even in California), often dramatically more votes when combined.  Where turnout is increasing, it’s increasing, generally, in states going strongly for Biden and dramatically so.  So Bernie has failed to do the very thing he claimed he, uniquely, could do, while Biden actually did it, not with phantom progressives but with actual suburban swing voters  that are the real key to elections. And youth turnout was typically low; there was no #BernieSurge.  In every state contest so far, Sanders has received fewer votes (or state delegate percentages) than he did in 2016, and in most cases, the drop has been dramatic.  Even in his home state of Vermont, Sander received an over 35% lower portion of the votes (50.7%) than he did in 2016 (86.1%).  The truth, then, bears no resemblance whatsoever to the narrative being spun by Sanders and his surrogates for, no matter how you slice or dice it, Bernie Sanders, is less popular and is receiving less support than he was four years ago in every state that has voted thus far.

And there are states Bernie won in 2016—Oklahoma, Maine, and Minnesota—that shifted decisively away from him in 2020.  In terms of states he lost in 2016, yes, he won Nevada and seems to have won California, but in both those cases—as in every case so far—he still performed worse than in 2016, and, in the case of California, significantly worse. In fact, as I noted before, Nevada was also a bit of a red herring in that, since it was a caucus, it overrepresented his support with nonwhites, just as caucuses overrepresent Bernie’s support in all groups, but the media and, it seems, the Bernie campaign, took the bait and thought Bernie just might have chipped into African-American support enough to topple Biden. In the end, non-caucus South Carolina put that nonsense to rest six feet under and then some.

How can we expect a candidate to mobilize a solid coalition to defeat Trump in November if he can’t even get that supposed coalition out to get him the nomination first?  How can we expect a candidate who claims to be able to mobilize millions of people in the streets to bring pressure to bear on opponents once he is president if the very people he is talking about stay home when he is in the fight of his life to win the nomination?  How can we expect him to win when he’s losing support compared to what he had in 2016?


Super Tuesday II: The Last Formal Battle of The Sandernista Insurgency

The answer is: we can’t.

Polls have been wrong before (but not usually), so Bernie might have a miracle and stay alive in theory (that would be a miracle) or at least in a cosmetic sense.  But there are many recent polls that have Bernie being crushed tonight in just about every state or losing narrowly in territory like Washington state that should be favorable to him.  And while, yes, the pollsters missed big in Michigan in 2016, they’re at least good enough to be on the lookout to avoid similar mistakes based on the same errors. But the fact is that, just like in 2016, even if Bernie does win Michigan, he still won’t turn it around.  He will still lose big in other states and the delegate gap for him will only grow; it is just a matter of how quickly that gap will grow.

Once this becomes obvious after tonight, will Bernie lose and bow out gracefully, or will he lose and lead (or at least not try to stop) a Sandernista terrorist insurgency against Biden and the Democratic Party as they try to marshal their strength against Trump?  The fate of the general election may hinge on the answer to this question, but if 2016 is any indication, that will be bad news for Democrats, the country, and the world and good news for Trump, Putin, and selfish, nihilist anarchists

Bernie Sanders has fought for justice as he saw it his whole adult life. He has dedicated himself to trying to make the world a better place and fighting for many of the voiceless. He deserves credit for inspiring so many from such an underdog position back in 2015 when he first announced his presidential candidacy. But how you behave in defeat is often a defining aspect of how history passes judgement on your actions and a real revealer of character. Sanders was rightly called out for the way he went about losing in 2016, for dragging his feet and keeping up intense attacks on Clinton and the Democratic Party when it was clear he was not to be the nominee, substantively damaging Clinton in ways that helped Trump win the election, something I warned about throughout the 2016 election. This is truly the moment of truth for Bernie Sanders in twilight of his career. Will he be associated with unproductive, scorched-earth tactics that tore the left apart at the moment when Trump threatened the survival of the American republic as we know it? Or will Bernie understand, and move hard to make his followers understand, that some things are bigger than your movement and your passion?

The formal war is ending, and tonight is almost certainly the last time Sanders can put up any serious resistance in a delegate-rich state.  His Waterloo will be Michigan.  The only real question is if Sanders surrenders gracefully like General Lee at Appomattox or pulls a Saddam Hussein and allows his forces to melt away in order to mount a vicious guerrilla campaign once the big formal battles are over.

In the interest of full disclosure, Brian interned for Joe Biden from September-December, 2006. He is currently in no way professionally affiliated with the Biden 2020 campaign, nor is receiving any compensation from it nor the Democratic Party nor any related super-PACs, campaigns, or other political groups involved in the 2020 nominating contests and elections.

See related articles: The Best Guide to Super Tuesday (no, seriously): Biden’s Got This (and the Nomination), Democrats Look Disastrous, But Biden May Yet Save Them from Themselves Starting in South Carolina, Sandernista Political Terrorism II: Sanders Derangement Syndrome, the Liberal Tea Party, & How Nevada Riot Pretty Much Sums Up Team Bernie, and The Sandernista Political Revolution Handbook: A Matchup Game of Bernie Sanders’ Talking Points & Those of His Fans/Supporters


Correction appended: a comparison of turnout indicated the wrong election year in one of the mentions.

© 2020 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

Brian E. Frydenborg is an American freelance writer, academic, and consultant from the New York City area. You can follow and contact him on Twitter: @bfry1981.  He also just recently authored A Song of Gas and Politics: How Ukraine Is at the Center of Trump-Russia.

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