Fair and Unbalanced
Littwin: Can Bernie Sanders still win the revolution if he can’t win the race?
In New York, the city where some people actually do sleep, the 2016 campaign was re-awakened to some old realities — that momentum in politics is highly overrated and that it’s demography (if not always democracy) that wins the day.
In this most strange of political seasons, this means that Hillary Clinton is all but a mathematical lock to win the Democratic nomination while Donald Trump will almost inevitably draw close to the magical 1,237 delegate count by the time Republicans gather in Cleveland for their national convention.
This also puts Bernie Sanders in a very difficult spot — how can he still claim to win the revolution at the same time he’s losing the race? — and Republican #neverTrumpers in an impossible one.
So, yes, the numbers tell us one thing, but only one thing. They tell us who’s winning, but they don’t tell us how the races can end.
First, the Democrats. There was the expected cry from many corners for Sanders to give it up, saying that his campaign has gone from good-message territory to bad-loser territory and that Clinton’s high unpopularity ratings are a function, at least to a degree, of the Sanders campaign successfully linking the “rigged” Democratic campaign to the “rigged” economy to a “rigged” world in which Clinton is as “rigged” as any of them.
In a normally weird year – say, like, 2008 – math overcomes all, the loser embraces the winner, and while the race continues, it continues without all the hard feelings.
My guess is that it will happen this year, too, but not yet. In an unexpected move, Sanders flew home to Vermont Tuesday night to, well, reassess. His immediate problem, other than the fact of his inability to win over minority voters, is that next week’s map — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware — looks a lot like the New York map, if you don’t count all those tall buildings and the Naked Cowboy in Times Square. Assuming Bernie gets hit hard again, the math will grow only more problematic and the cries only louder.
In fact, his campaign was already reduced Tuesday night to outlining a path to victory that includes flipping those un-democratic superdelegates to his cause. The idea that Sanders would rely on the Democratic establishment to win is more than a little crazy, especially when you consider how it would actually have to work: Sanders would lose the pledged-delegate count, lose the popular vote and still be able to convince superdelegates like, say, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet to abandon Clinton and vote for him at the convention.
That’s not going to happen. It would never happen. So what does happen? If I’m advising Bernie, he plays out the next week to see if the momentum can switch again and to see if the national polls, showing him closing in on Clinton, actually mean something. And if they don’t — and they probably won’t — Sanders should simply declare victory for his message and keep on the pressure to win the message race, but while reverting to the early-Bernie, no-personal-attacks mode.
It’s one way to victory. If Bernie is to win the revolution, he needs a Democratic president willing to join him in the effort. In other words, in the most crass of political terms, he needs Hillary Clinton to owe him. That’s what happened in 2008, when Obama would owe the Clintons, and Hillary would become his Secretary of State, which would lead her back to a path toward the White House. Bernie wants something less and something more. And pretending you’re going to win a last-minute landslide in majority-minority California isn’t going to get it. Democrats winning back the Senate and Sanders becoming chair of the Budget Committee might be a start, though.
Which brings us to Trump and where we are today — in which a highly unpopular Democrat would be taking on an improbably unpopular Republican in November. I don’t pretend to understand how Trump could win 60 percent of the Republican vote in New York. Home-statism goes only so far as an explanation. Having Lyin’ Ted and John Kasich as your remaining competitors offers up a little more. But, still, 60 percent is more than a rout, and with more routs expected next week, the Republican establishment doesn’t know what to do.
If Trump comes to the convention with anything close to 1,200 delegates — even with as few as 1,150 — the #neverTrumpers can stop him only by getting to a second or third ballot and stealing his establishment-leaning delegates, who would then vote for the despicable Ted Cruz or for John Kasich (who has won only one state, his own) or for a white-knight alternative. We know what Trump would do. He’d threaten to sue somebody, and if that didn’t work, he’d walk out, taking his Trumpists with him. The numbers guys will tell you that if Trump kept 5 or 10 percent of Republicans home, the Republicans would have no chance.
The problem for Republicans is that if Trump were to win, he would not only have no chance, but there’s the real chance he could bring down the whole party structure around him.
So, do the #neverTrumpists do everything they can to destroy Trump before he can destroy the party? Or is there some point at which the Republican establishment reconciles itself to the fact that it is to blame for allowing Trump to reach this point, hope for the best and take solace — as some were doing Tuesday night — in his eight-minute victory speech Tuesday night in which he tried to act presidential by saying as few words as possible, because saying little is the best way for Trump to avoid insulting anyone.
As the long, long race continues, we could be seeing the start of a new, improved Trump slogan — pledging not only to make America great again, but to do it in under 10 minutes.
[Photo credit:Michael Vadon via Creative Commons on Flickr]
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