Sunday, September 15, 2019

Lingering Myths of the 2016 presidential election, #1: Bernie was robbed by the DNC!!!

The 2020 presidential election is more than a year away and America’s left is already eating its own.
Apoplectic at the Trump presidency and fearful of the horrifying long-term consequences of a potential second Trump term, Democratic voters are involved in a heated debate over which candidate to put up in 2020. The three candidates who are running away from the pack in opinion polling have been subjected to withering criticism—by Democrats. According to whichever sect of armchair critic you’re interacting with at the moment, Joe Biden is too old and too cozy with corporate interests, Bernie Sanders isn’t really a Democrat and besides, we need a female candidate, but Elizabeth Warren is too far left and can’t win a general election.  
The level of engagement is healthy and necessary, but the debate is riddled with false narratives from 2016 that threaten to keep Donald Trump in the White House until January of 2025:  the Dems lose when they don’t go left, Trump should be easy to beat, the Dems have abandoned working-class voters, and the most persistent myth of all, that Bernie Sanders would have beaten Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary if not for the actions of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  
Pushed aggressively on social media by Russian bots, the Bernie-was-robbed talking point split the American left wide open in 2016 and helped convince a decisive number of swing state Sanders supporters to stay home on election day, vote for Trump, or waste their vote on Green Party candidate and Putin darling Jill Stein.
Amazingly, this myth continues to linger in the minds of many well-intentioned but misinformed people, poisoning their attitude toward the Democratic Party, frontrunner Joe Biden (disdainfully referred to as “the DNC’s candidate”), and even the act of voting itself.
The particulars of the Bernie-was-robbed theory are that Sanders would have won the primary if not for the Clinton campaign’s control of DNC strategy and resources, debate scheduling, closed primaries, registration challenges faced by new voters, and the allotment of delegates and superdelegates.
The charge that Clinton’s control of DNC strategy and resources played a key role in her primary victory is a classic example of the correlation-proves-causation logical fallacy. Deep in debt in 2015, the DNC cut a deal with Clinton that gave her an unusual level of power over party decisions in exchange for her fundraising assistance. The arrangement was unsavory, and leaked emails showed that DNC members wanted Clinton to win, but Sanders supporters never provided concrete data showing precisely how the wishes of a relatively small number of powerful people made a major difference in a year-long campaign spread over 50 states and multiple U.S. territories that drew 30 million votes. 
Flowing from this broad charge was the assertion that Sanders was hurt by the DNC decision to schedule a limited number of party-sanctioned primary debates, and few debates during prime time hours. But the presumption that Sanders would have significantly benefited from more exposure is purely speculative and ignores Clinton’s high performance in all of the debates she was in in both 2008 and 2016. No public figure in the modern era has been more consistently prepared and on-point in this format than Clinton, and there’s little evidence that Sanders gained ground from the debates that were held in 2016. In fact, other than the first 2012 debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, in which Obama was uncharacteristically sluggish and on the defensive, no political debate from the past couple decades moved public opinion other than around the margins.  

Since Sanders beat Clinton among independents, his supporters cried foul over the number of primary races that were closed, i.e. primaries that only allowed registered Democrats to vote. Whatever the merits of giving non-Democrats a role in choosing the Democratic candidate, the primary rules were decided at the state level, not by the DNC, and were in place well before the 2016 primary. While criticizing the closed primaries on “Face the Nation,” Sanders himself said, “I wouldn’t use the word ‘rigged,’ because we knew what the rules were.”
A third piece of the theory that the 2016 primary was “rigged” was the contention that the challenges faced by new voters and voters who were purged from voter rolls was the work of—or done at the bidding of—the DNC. One could claim that the rules regarding registration of new voters and the purging of voter rolls hurt Sanders more than Clinton, as he did well among first-time voters, but the guidelines were made by state and local government officials (many of them Republicans), not the DNC. And some of these practices disproportionately disenfranchised people of color—Clinton’s strongest constituency. Far from defending voter suppression, Clinton proposed major reforms to increase access to the ballot while her campaign sued to overturn voting restrictions in multiple states. 
Sanders supporters also made a lot of noise about delegates and superdelegates. The attacks on the allotment of delegates among Sanders supporters could be seen as legitimate in those states where Clinton received a higher proportion of delegates than she had won in the popular vote, but Sanders’ supporters lacked such outrage when their candidate benefited from other states’ undemocratic caucus systems, in which delegates parceled out weren’t proportional to the popular vote.
As to superdelegates, Clinton’s broad support from the beginning of the primary process may have given her a psychological advantage (in convincing people to vote for Clinton because they thought her candidacy was inevitable), but her superdelegate lead over Barack Obama in the beginning of the 2008 primary had no impact on that race, and for all of the sound and fury about delegates and superdelegates in 2016, delegates and superdelegates had virtually nothing to do with the results of the primary.
If one believes that the party nominee should be chosen by the popular vote, as Sanders supporters said when it came to the disbursement of delegates and superdelegates, then Clinton won the primary easily, by 3.7 million votes, a 56%-44% margin. (Ironically, once the votes were cast and it was clear that Clinton would win the nomination, Sanders told NBC news that the superdelegates “have a very important choice to make,” insinuating that they should consider flipping to his side and making him the nominee, though he had lost the popular vote overwhelmingly.)
A close look at the composition of primary voters removes any mystery as to why Clinton won by a landslide. Sanders did well among young voters, independents, and rural voters, but these blocs make up a small share of the Democratic primary electorate. Clinton won or tied all economic and educational strata and dominated bigger voting blocs:  older voters, moderate Democrats, registered Democrats as a whole, as well as suburban and urban voters—African-Americans in particular. Today’s Democratic Party is diverse and increasingly urban; it’s mathematically impossible to become the Democratic nominee solely by winning independents who aren’t allowed to vote in many primaries, rural and white voters who are shrinking as a percentage of the total, and the 18-27-year-old demographic, who vote in the smallest numbers.
For all of the hostility leveled at Clinton from the left, and the constant claim that she felt entitled to “a coronation,” the simple fact is that she worked much longer and harder for the nomination than Sanders. Starting in 1972, when she registered voters of color in Texas for the upcoming presidential race between George McGovern and Richard Nixon, Clinton spent decades campaigning for Democratic candidates, raising money for Democratic candidates, going to party events and planning meetings, holding policy forums and town hall meetings, networking with party functionaries, and cultivating key constituencies. And unlike Sanders, she didn’t change her registration at the last minute to run in the primary; she had been a registered Democrat for 48 years when she ran in 2016. Decades of grunt work created a loyal foundation in the Democratic base that Bernie didn’t have.
In short, Hillary Clinton won the nomination the old-fashioned way—by earning it—but the anger and indignation spawned by the demonstrably false “rigged primary” talking point drove a crucial number of Sanders supporters away from Clinton and helped to give us President Trump. 
Those who continue to peddle this noxious myth in 2019 (or cart out the DNC whipping boy yet again to sneer at Joe Biden’s consistent lead in the polls) only fuel baseless rancor and splinter the anti-Trump vote, just as Vladimir Putin planned it. The bottom line is that there are more of us than there are of them, and winning at the presidential level is very, very straightforward:  united we stand, divided we fall.


More political writing by Dan Benbow:

The Iraq War turns 16; America sleeps

The Master of Low Expectations:  666 reasons sentient citizens
 are still celebrating the long overdue departure of George W. Bush

Death of a President in the United States of Amnesia
 (a review of the public life of George H.W. Bush)

Aliens, unicorns, and the narcissism 
of voting Green

10 reasons Barack Obama is clearly
the best president in my lifetime

178 reasons Hillary Clinton is infinitely better
than Donald Trump (even on her worst day)








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