Democrats are freaking out, which sounds about right. They were freaking out at exactly this time eight years ago.
You remember. Hillary Clinton was on the losing side then, and recriminations were running high. Clintonistas wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama. Latinos wouldn’t vote for Obama. Women wouldn’t vote for Obama.
Except that they all did, and everyone lived happily ever after, if you can call the last eight years in any way happy.
In any case, this year it’s Bernie who’s losing. And it’s the Bernie supporters who say they won’t vote for Clinton or for any Democrat basically because the system is rigged and Clinton is a Wall Street tool and Nevada convention officials called for a voice vote when a roll call would have been so much fairer.
OK, history doesn’t really repeat, although, as the saying goes, it does rhyme. And I’m going to pretty much guarantee – which is short of a guarantee, but it’s in Nate Silver’s 90 percent range — that these divisions, as ugly as they are, will heal.
Because Donald Trump is uglier. Much uglier. And I don’t mean his looks. I mean him. The ugliness of Donald Trump allows for only one result — the saner half of America will have to unite to forcibly reject him.
I have faith in the American people, by which I mean I have faith in about 55 percent of them. I’ve lost the other group, which not only nominated Trump but which, according to latest polls, seems ready to embrace him. According to The New York Times/CBS News poll, 67 percent of Republicans think Trump represents their values and 62 percent find him honest and trustworthy even though, by my count, he’s at least 94 percent con man.
In 2008, Clinton did bow out gracefully at the very end and even nominated Obama at the convention. And her supporters followed, even though she didn’t have the same kind of pull with hers that Sanders does with his and even though the opponent was John McCain and not Donald Trump.
The Bernie-ites began as a cult and have morphed into a religion, which isn’t to say they’ll follow Sanders everywhere, but most — because what choice do they have? — will not go to Trump, not when Sanders is saying he’s probably the most dangerous person ever to get this close to the presidency. I don’t expect Bernie to look happy supporting Clinton. And I doubt you’ll see a real truce soon. But Sanders will be out there hammering Trump and he won’t be alone. So will Obama. So will Elizabeth Warren. So will everyone but Tim Robbins (I’m thinking even Susan Sarandon will come around).
In fact, the biggest danger is not that Democrats will fracture in the end, but that they’re fracturing now, which leaves Bernie, I’m afraid, looking very much like a sore loser at the same time he has pulled a magnificent victory.
Sanders’ near victory represents the biggest push by the Democratic left since McGovern, and the great news is that won’t end in a McGovernite disaster.
People, even smart people, are saying that this campaign will redefine the Democratic Party, which is overwhelmingly young and overwhelmingly minority (and, yes, even those minority voters who completely resisted Bernie’s charms will almost certainly be open to his message).
Real change has happened, but real change is not throwing chairs onto the stage in Las Vegas or Tweeting the ugliest kind of misogynistic garbage at the Nevada Democratic chair. That’s Trump-like goonery. And where Sanders made a huge mistake was in not forcefully condemning the behavior, which led one pundit to call the Sanders movement the Sour Grapes Revolution.
I’m guessing Sanders will stay until the end of the campaign — as Clinton did before him. But that won’t be the last act. I’m guessing Democrats will concede him a bunch of stuff in the platform. I’m guessing he’ll get a prime-time speech. I’m guessing Sanders, as angry as he might be at slights perceived and otherwise, has to care about his own legacy and, more to the point, the success of his campaign. He’s not going to win the nomination. And he’s not going to overthrow the Democratic Party. If he wants to reform the party, though, he can’t afford to lose the non-Bernie reformist wing.
The real danger in this campaign, as I’ve written before, is that the Trump candidacy will come to be considered normal and not a historical anomaly that will haunt the Republican party for a generation. We’re already seeing it happen on the Republican side, even if the intellectual right is still resisting and even if suburban women are almost certain to desert the party in November.
But how the country responds does depend, in part, on what Sanders and his supporters do. You can call Trump a demagogue, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexist, an authoritarian, a boor, a crypto-fascist and the least-prepared person ever to be nominated by a major party, but, in the end, it’s just a list of words.
We hear in each presidential campaign that this year’s election is the most important of our lifetimes — and we’ve heard it so often that no one believes it anymore. And why should they?
Except this time is different. And not just because the stakes are high, because, let’s be honest, the stakes are always high.
This time is different because Donald Trump is different, and he’s so hugely different that the Democratic feud looks very small.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr.