4 May 2016

Stop whining Bernie Sanders, you lost fair and square


First Hillary Clinton’s victories didn’t count because they were all in the “Southern” states, with primarily non-white voters. Then it was all about the unjust advantage she had in terms of funding, until it transpired that Bernie Sanders’ campaign had actually raised just as much as Clinton’s. From the moment he entered the race to yesterday’s primary in Indiana, Sanders’ slogan may just as well have been “It’s not fair”.

Politics, as a rule, isn’t fair. It’s a dirty game, and while the Democratic race has been blissfully free of penis jokes and my-wife-is-hotter-than-yours attacks, it has hardly been a lesson in dignity. Clinton has accused Sanders of lying and of being insecure, while Sanders notably called the former Secretary of State “unqualified” and held a rally where a speaker implied she was a “corporate whore”.

Sanders, whose rise came out of nowhere and who has become the darling of America’s hard left, seemed pretty at home with the rough-and-tumble of a national presidential campaign. Until, that is, he started losing.

It turns out that the Senator from Vermont is a worse loser than Donald Trump.

His circular justifications and pitiful excuses hit a new low after Hillary Clinton won New York by sixteen points. This landslide victory wasn’t because she was the most popular candidate. No, said Bernie, it was because his supporters were unfairly barred from voting.

What Brits watching the election unfold may not understand is that every state has the right to choose whatever primary system it likes. (In fact, it’s the political parties in each state that get to decide, which is why the Republicans have some winner-take-all states and the Democrats do not.) Twenty states offer open primaries, meaning that anyone can vote, regardless of party affiliation. These include New Hampshire, where Sanders won by 22.4 points, and Virginia, where Clinton crushed him by 64.3 to 35.2.

New York’s primaries are stricter than most, requiring voters to register for a party six months in advance if they want to vote in primaries. (Hilariously, two of Donald Trump’s children failed to register in time, leaving them unable to vote for their father.) Some critics have argued that the rules were not well publicised, meaning that people turned up to vote unaware that they were not eligible, but while more comprehensive voting education can only be a good thing, it is up to an individual to make sure that they understand how to vote. It is not part of a nationwide Hillary Clinton conspiracy, as some Sanders fans have alleged.

It seems Bernie Sanders is a bit hazy on the rules of his own party when it comes to primaries. He seemed shocked that Independents were unable to vote in New York, saying on election day:

“Today, 3 million people in the state of New York who are Independents have lost their right to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary. That’s wrong.”

Sanders made no such comments after winning in other closed primaries and caucuses, such as Colorado and Maine. In fact, many consider caucuses, where the Senator has tended to do better, far more unfair than primaries because they require voters to be there to caucus for hours in person, barring anyone who cannot attend due to other commitments or accessibility requirements. It is therefore impossible to view Sanders’ outrage over the New York results as anything other than a hypocritical and cynical political ploy.

Some may argue that wider enfranchisement is the ideal in any kind of election, others will say that political parties have the right to limit decision making to supporters. (Brits will remember the chaos this summer when the Labour party ran its first leadership election which allowed a new tier of £3 members to vote. Aside from the rumours of opposition supporters signing up to try to sabotage the outcome, the eventual result was a winning candidate who horrified the majority of Labour’s own MPs.) The truth is that open and closed primaries both have their benefits, and as a presidential candidate, Sanders should have made the effort to understand the system.

But even if Sanders could go back in time and change the closed primaries to open ones, would it make a difference? Political scientist Alan Abramowitz has crunched the numbers for Vox, looking at the effect Independents would have had if the closed primaries had become open. And what did he find?

“Mathematically, if we changed all of the closed primaries to open primaries, we could generously assume Sanders would have done 5 points better in each of the six states. Because of the Democrats’ proportional allocation rules, that would probably give Sanders around 5 percent more delegates in each of the six contests.

Add those up, and Sanders would have won 41 more delegates than he currently has. Clinton is currently leading Sanders by 293 delegates (without even counting the superdelegates).”

That brings us nicely onto superdelegates, Sanders’ latest cause to distract from his imploding campaign. The 747 superdelegates (or “unpledged” delegates) who will be attending the Democratic Convention this summer are there to make sure the Democrats don’t have their own Donald Trump moment and end up with a candidate who stands against most of the party. This should not be news to Sanders – superdelegates have been a part of Democratic primaries since 1968. But suddenly he has decided the superdelegates’ support for Clinton is deeply unfair.

“If I win a state with 70 percent of the vote, you know what? I think I am entitled to those superdelegates…. I think the superdelegates should reflect what the people of the state want, and that’s true for Hillary Clinton as well.”

Let us not forget that this is coming from a man who has fought against the Democratic Party for most of his career, and who has repeatedly slammed Hillary Clinton for acting like she is entitled to the nomination or to his supporters. Sanders’ arrogance in assuming he can bypass the democratic process because he is an outsider and his fans don’t know the rules is sickening.

Hillary Clinton is actually winning the delegate count both with and without superdelegates – the latest numbers have her with 1682 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1361 even after Sanders’ victory last night in Indiana. While it might be difficult for her critics to comprehend, vast numbers of Democratic voters seem to support her, regardless of whether or not they like her. She has won in large and small states, in closed and open primaries, in the deep South and in the North-Eastern mega-metropolis New York City. Sanders can shout all he wants about how the system was rigged against him, but the fact is he had his shot at the Democratic nomination and he blew it. Now, like a spoilt child who has been denied a new toy, he’s throwing a national tantrum.

Maybe if Senator Sanders had spent less time whining about the process and more time appealing to voters outside core support group of college students who want their debt forgiven he might have had more success.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign event in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Scott Olson / Getty Images