Last weekend, in a Las Vegas hotel ballroom whose walls have undoubtedly witnessed more depravity than a Tijuana horse brothel’s longtime fluffer, supporters of an increasingly desperate presidential candidate tried to prevent Hillary Clinton from occupying the White House. They screamed incoherently. They threw punches. They accused party leadership of mobilizing against them. The media, too. They called women “bitches” and “cunts” and issued death threats.
There wasn’t one registered Republican in the room.
It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly it became difficult to separate Bernie Sanders supporters from those who believe a rotting sentient jack-o-lantern can return America to a time when you could hurl racial slurs without violating some limp-wristed pescetarian’s safe space. The two groups share little common policy ground. BernieBots want to break up the banks and send kids to college on the government’s dime; Trump wants to break up families and send kids over the wall to Latinoland in federally-funded trebuchets. Their Venn Diagram overlaps, however, on two very important points: a propensity for temper tantrums, and an obsession with destroying Hillary Clinton. The former is just annoying. The latter could potentially usher in a Trump presidency and capsize American democracy as we know it. And for some inexplicable reason, Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to care.
Here are the facts: barring an Independence Day: Resurgence viral marketing stunt gone horribly awry, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president and likely the first female commander in chief in our nation’s history. Her popular vote margin over Sanders is more than 3 million and will balloon to nearly 4 million by the time D.C votes on June 14. She enjoys a 760 delegate lead and needs just 89 more delegates to officially clinch the nomination. Sanders would have to win the California primary by at least 35 points (an outcome slightly less likely than ABC sweeping next year’s Emmys) just to even up the pledged delegate count, and he’d still trail heavily with superdelegates. The race is over and has been since Clinton won her home state of New York back on April 19.
Bizarrely though, Sanders, rather than accepting this eventuality and working toward party unity, has adopted a kamikaze strategy seemingly designed to inflict as much damage on Clinton as possible. A man whose grandfatherly affectations and selfless devotion to his country endeared him to huge swaths of young progressives is now deluding his maniacal supporters into believing their desired revolution is still within reach. Level one more corruption allegation. Call Hillary a corporate conservative a few more times. Delegate math is just nerdy new-age media bias. They’ll all see soon enough.
Why do this? Why risk your reputation and a Trump presidency to wage a war he can’t win? There’s no plausible path to the nomination for the Vermont senator. He needs 110 percent of the remaining delegates to reach the 2,383 required to clinch the nomination. To put that in terms you tuition-wasting, parent-disappointing liberal arts folks can understand, Bernie needs to win more delegates than are available to win. Which means the only remaining avenue left is to convince enough superdelegates to abandon Hillary and throw their support behind the candidate who trails by 3 million votes. And Bernie is the one complaining the system is unfair?
Sanders claims he’s sticking around to highlight the systemic injustice embedded in the nominating process. Fine. Set aside that the rules were agreed upon years in advance and that he could just as easily highlight these perceived deficiencies from his den. There’s a way to make his case without unleashing the .50 cal on Clinton. Bernie is not a stupid man. He knows his convention speech ends with a Clinton endorsement. Extracting concessions, adopting meaningful nominating process changes, and convincing Clinton adopt a more progressive general election platform is much easier when the Wells Fargo Center isn’t filled with gullible BernieBots convinced the shady party elders unjustly wrested the nomination from their man. Harmony benefits everyone.
But if Sanders wants to go the conciliatory route, it’s time to call off his dogs. Right now. Tacitly excusing Saturday’s Nevada fracas by blaming Democratic leadership for “using its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place” was an irresponsible, selfish strategy, akin to giving a toddler 17 Oreos before bedtime. It’s hard to decide which is preferable: that Sanders’ brain trust genuinely believes a corrupt Clinton machine improperly disenfranchised their delegates, or that they know they lost fairly and threw dishonest meat to their fanatical supporters anyway. Regardless, the supporters’ reaction to a relatively insignificant delegate appropriation defeat and the Sanders campaign’s response to it raises serious concerns about the party’s health heading into the general election. Hashtag Bernie or Bust is awesome until you actually bust.
Every day Sanders fails to acknowledge reality or force civility on his supporters benefits Donald Trump. Staying in the race forces Clinton to waste time and money campaigning in states like Nebraska and Montana and South Dakota rather than maneuvering her Death Star into Trump’s orbit. Allowing the Democratic National Convention to devolve into a farce where bearded pottery majors chain themselves to ballroom doors (it’s not like they have to worry about missing work the next day) in a vain effort to disrupt Hillary’s coronation makes Clinton appear disorganized and weak. Painting an accomplished liberal with very similar political views as a corrupt corporate shill without a progressive bone in her body practically begs Democratic voters to stay home in November. Every campaign employs unsubstantiated criticisms and barbed character assassinations. But never this late in the game with the outcome an inevitability.
We chastise Republican hate mongers for refusing to admit their ignorant invective has consequences. When a bug-eyed lunatic killed three people in a Colorado Planned Parenthood attack that coincidentally took place less than two months after Carly Fiorina’s falsified jihad against the organization, liberals were quick to insist the sinkhole-faced job eater’s inflamed rhetoric helped push a disturbed individual to action. They were right. Fiorina and other right-wing fear-mongers didn’t pull the trigger. But you can’t spend two months trying to convince an angry, uneducated voter base that Planned Parenthood engages in for-profit infanticide then wash your hands when someone finally listens.
Bernie would be well served to heed the advice offered by a prominent politician in the hours immediately following the massacre: “Planned Parenthood has been the subject of vicious and unsubstantiated statements attacking an organization that provides critical health care for millions of Americans. I strongly support Planned Parenthood and the work it is doing and hope people realize that bitter rhetoric can have unintended consequences.”
Bitter rhetoric can have unintended consequences. Wise words. Hopefully the man who uttered them remembers their importance before it’s too late.