Why Bernie Lost
In this post I am seeking to give a more detailed and rational answer as to what exactly happened in the 2016 Democratic Primary, because I followed it very closely and although it felt to me like I was watching a car wreck in slow motion, I did try to learn the hows and whys of what happened. I believe I can tell you what you really want to know about that race, beyond simply “it was rigged” and “the fix was in”.
In order to give you the most comprehensive view of what happened, I will break my answer into two sections: the indisputable facts that everyone on all sides acknowledges to some degree, and the more controversial elements that some people believe and some reject.
FIRST: The more or less “factual” reasons Bernie lost were:
Low name recognition
Bernie Sanders he started with only 3% name recognition and even by the time of the SC primary and the first Super Tuesday in March, many Democrats had no idea who Bernie was, or what he stood for. Bernie was simply not able to make his case or introduce himself to enough people to win some of the key primaries early on.
Failure to reach black voters
Bernie was slow to recognize the need to speak directly and forcefully to the problems of black people in the US. Although Bernie had been a valiant fighter for Civil Rights in the past, marched with MLK, supported Jesse Jackson for President, and so on, he himself admitted that he had no idea how bad the plight of blacks in “modern” America actually was. When his speech was interrupted by BLM activists it marked a turning point in his campaign. Since then, Bernie has actually gone on to become more popular among POC than he is among whites, but during the early part of the campaign he focused on economic issues to the detriment of racial justice ones, and that hurt him.
A strong lead by Clinton early on
The Clinton campaign was able to capitalize on both of the above factors to “bank” a ton of votes in the South during the early stages of the race. This proved to be a head start that Bernie simply did not have the time to make up. While it is true that Bernie eventually became the preferred choice for the majority of Democrats, as the Gallup polls show below, that did not happen until well into April, and by then Clinton had already collected all those votes in the early Primaries.
Structural obstacles to a challenger
Many of the primaries were “closed” primaries, meaning that you had to be a registered Democrat in order to vote in the Primary. This really hurt Bernie, because he was attracting independents and young people who had not even considered registering or voting until Bernie came along. In some states this was a real problem: for example, in New York, in order to vote in the April 2016 primary you had to be registered as a Democrat by October 2015. Most people of course did not even pay attention until the few months leading up to Election Day, so many New Yorkers who would have voted for Bernie could not, simply because they had not registered as a Democrat 6 months earlier.
Virtually every Democratic incumbent, members of Congress, elected officials, committee chairs, caucus organizers, poll station supervisors, volunteer trainers, ballot managers and so on were for Hillary Clinton, and had been since she launched her “Ready for Hillary” campaign and SuperPAC in 2013. That’s right — the entire Democratic universe had been gearing up for Hillary’s run since almost the day she left the State Department.
Secondly — on to the more controversial reasons for Bernie’s loss:
There are still many questions revolving around the primaries in Nevada, Arizona, New York and especially California where, to my knowledge, all the votes have still not been counted. I will not go into details, but you have probably heard about the 120,000 Brooklyn Democrats who were mysteriously “purged” from the voting rolls and prohibited from voting in the NY primary. Or the many irregularities in the Arizona primary. You may have also heard how Harry Reid worked with the Las Vegas casino owners to get their staff to go vote for Hillary at the caucus, and how the DSC chair ran amok at the Nevada convention. Or how all the poll volunteers in California were taught NOT to give independent voters the correct NPP (No Party Preference) ballot form but rather a “provisional” ballot form so that the votes would need to be vetted through a separate — longer — process. This means essentially that the independent votes in California were not counted. And we all know whom that hurt.
“The Bernie Blackout”
As I mention above, everyone can agree that Bernie Sanders was an unknown at the time he announced his campaign in the summer of 2015. But although he was able to make some headway by personally spending time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the fall of 2015 still showed that almost 40% of Americans did not know who Bernie was.
THIS WAS NOT BY ACCIDENT. As has been revealed in the various WikiLeaks emails and by Donna Brazile in her book, the Clinton campaign had taken over the DNC and was running the Primary process themselves. They were able to control not only all personnel and managerial matters but also the debate schedules and everything else that fell under the heading “candidate communications”. They made sure that very little was communicated about Bernie Sanders.
Moreover, the Clintons exercised their influence with the Media to ensure that the Bernie Blackout was as complete as possible. This included refusing to cover Bernie’s rallies and events — and even his victory speeches — in favor of covering Clinton or Trump. Ed Schultz has related how he received direct orders from Phil Griffin, head of programming at MSNBC, NOT to cover Bernie Sanders at all.
The debate schedule did not help. In 2008, the Democrats held 26 Debates, starting in April 2007–14 months before the convention. In 2016, the Democrats held only 9 debates, and the first one wasn’t until OCTOBER of 2017, just 8 months before the convention.
The Clintons were not leaving anything to chance.
Now, as I explained in the section above, one of the biggest obstacles to victory that Bernie Sanders encountered was a lack of name recognition, and beyond that, a lack of coverage of his platform and policies which, once people heard them, proved to be very popular. But for the first year of his campaign he had to struggle while the Bernie Blackout was in effect. One can only wonder what the race would have been like if the Democratic Party had scheduled debates starting 6 months earlier, and had more of them, and had scheduled them at reasonable times rather than on dates that were expressly chosen to ensure a minimal amount of viewers.
The Bernie Blackout affected black voters most
The control of the Democratic message was most strongly evident among people of color, and Bernie was widely acknowledged to be a “virtual unknown among black voters” even by the fall of 2015, when Gallup showed that only 33% of blacks nationwide were “familiar” with Sanders.
The Bernie Blackout was most effective for Clinton in South Carolina, which, according to Hillary fangirl Joan Walsh, was the vote that “saved 2016 for Hillary Clinton.” Indeed, Hillary won the black vote in South Carolina 86–14, an improbably lopsided result that was most obviously due to a very effective Bernie Blackout at every level of the Democratic machine, including local offices and communities. Indeed, shortly before the Primary vote in SC, a CBS/YouGov poll showed that only 28% of black voters in South Carolina knew Bernie Sanders “very well” and other polls showed that fully 30% of black voters in SC did not know him at all.
Many Clinton apologists try to justify this result by saying that Bernie had a “black problem” and that his message of economic justice simply did not resonate with people of color (as I mentioned in the previous section). This is pure nonsense, as every poll taken since the election has shown Bernie to be actually MORE popular among African Americans than he is among whites.
The “Bernie doesn’t appeal to POC” narrative is just pure codswallop, and is not supported by the facts or the polling. It was just a temporary phenomenon that was deliberately caused by the Clinton DNC and the media and communications blackout they created.
The institutional bias was actually a game-changer
The bias towards Hillary Clinton was more than just preferential treatment and pervaded even the most basic aspects of the Democratic Primary structure. For example, the 2013 “Ready for Hillary” campaign was powered and supported by NGP VAN, the company that also provides ALL the voter databases and mailing, outreach and “get out the vote” tools to ALL Democratic candidates. They define themselves as “the leading technology provider to Democratic and progressive campaigns and organizations.”
As they explained in their blog in 2014:
NGP VAN has equipped Ready for Hillary with some of the most innovative uses of political technology to-date. We’ve productized many of the tools and concepts harnessed by Obama for America to provide an unparalleled edge tailored to the specific needs of Ready for Hillary in this next stage of development … The website is hosted by our mobile-responsive Accelerator platform. Embraced by hundreds of Democratic candidates ranging from U.S. Senate to City Council …”
So the entire Democratic Party structure — including the key vendors and contractors — was already behind Hillary 3 years before the convention was held.
Hillary Clinton was the designated 2016 nominee of the Democratic Party Establishment, and had been (I believe) ever since 2008, when she negotiated her concession with Barack Obama. Behind closed doors at Dianne Feinstein’s house, Obama and Clinton hammered out an agreement that resulted in her pledging him her support in 2008 in return for his support as POTUS in 2016.
And Obama kept his part of the deal. Obama himself worked hard to keep all the major potential competitors (like Joe Biden) out of the race. This was an open secret in DC, and many articles were written about the Democrats “clearing the field” for a Hillary run. Obama and his cohorts kept all the “serious” candidates out of the race, and allowed only three “show” candidates to actually run against the designated nominee. One of those show candidates was a Jewish septuagenarian from Vermont, a socialist curmudgeon with an outrageous Brooklyn accent, rumpled suits and unkempt hair, whom no one took seriously at all.
Those are all easily observable phenomena that I believe most people would agree with. Indeed, many Hillary supporters not only confirm this bias, but believe it was fully justified because “Bernie‘s not even a Democrat” …
The corrupting effect of corrupted SuperDelegates
As mentioned in the section above, there were certain institutional issues that worked against Bernie Sanders, and one of them was the fact that the Democratic Party establishment all declared Hillary Clinton to be their nominee. Indeed, almost all of the SuperDelegates were on the record as voting for Hillary Clinton long before the Primary race had even begun, or the candidates even declared. The “Ready for Hillary” campaign had done its work. One other thing that had convinced them to stand with Hillary was MONEY. The illicit money laundering and buying of favors that went on under the guise of the “Hillary Victory Fund” and the so-called “Joint Fundraising Agreements” meant that SuperDelegates in the various States who were either running for office or trying to fund local Party operations became directly indebted to Hillary, and her campaign withheld needed money, only releasing it to the State Parties on an ad hoc basis whenever they saw fit.
As Margot Kidder explains in her expose in Counterpunch:
One could reasonably infer that … the super-delegates of these various partner states would either pledge loyalty to Clinton, or, at the least, not endorse Senator Sanders. Not only did Hillary’s multi-millionaire and billionaire supporters get to bypass individual campaign donation limits to state parties by using several state parties apparatus, but the Clinton campaign got the added bonus of buying that state’s super-delegates with the promise of contributions to that Democratic organization’s re-election fund.
Although the votes of the SuperDelegates were not needed to put Clinton over the top, the fact that the SD votes were being counted in real time in all the election returns for each primary made it seem like Bernie was actually losing the primaries even as he won them:
This had a chilling effect, of course, and probably served to lower participation by people who might have voted for Sanders.
So … there you have it, a brief and still incomplete accounting of what happened, but at least some food for thought.