Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Nevada Moment (with Update)

The events surrounding the Nevada state Democratic convention and the fallout from those events have roiled the party and may be a turning point in the relationship of Bernie Sanders and his supporters with the Democratic Party and its 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times and Washington Post were among the news organizations reporting on violence and threats of violence by Bernie supporters over the Nevada convention, including harassing phone calls, abusive tweets and emails, and death threats to Democratic officials and, in one case, grandchildren.  All over a failed maneuver to change rules that might have resulted in Sanders gaining a total of two delegates.

The Post included facsimiles of one of the emails, and Senator Sanders first response, which included "Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals," but emphasized the party's perceived unfairness to his candidacy, and asserted that "Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense."

In the interim between the events and statement, editorials such as this one in the Sacramento Bee seized on the campaign's failure to immediately condemn the threats.  But the Sanders statement--seen as repeating a pro forma condemnation while defending itself with more vociferous charges against the party--was judged inadequate by national Democratic party leaders, and led to a wider examination of the direction of the Sanders campaign.

Observers and party leaders, somewhat worried about Sanders' attacks on Hillary directly damaging her general election campaign, and the prospect of a more bitter Sanders campaign--evidenced by Nevada--disillusioning Bernie supporters to the point that they wouldn't vote for her, or even vote for Trump, became much more concerned.  Sanders campaign statements did nothing to dissuade them.   The Post concluded: "All of it seems to have come to a head in recent days, as bitterness on both sides has boiled over and prompted new worries that a fractured party could lead to chaos at the national convention and harm Clinton’s chances against Trump in November. Two realities seem to be fueling it all: The nomination is, for all intents and purposes, out of Sanders’s reach yet his supporters are showing no signs of wanting to rally behind Clinton."

Also troubling was the growing impression that Sanders doesn't care if Democrats are divided and the White House is lost.  Folks are starting to remember that Sanders is not himself a Democrat, and may have no real loyalty beyond his own campaign.

This concern speaks to the dangerous aspect of the Sanders campaign: its tone.  In a column debunking the Sanders' campaign's persistent theme of being unfairly treated, Ed Kilgore quotes Josh Marshall, the dean of political bloggers: "For weeks I've thought and written that Sanders Camp Manager Jeff Weaver was the driver of toxicity in this race. But what I've heard in a series of conversations over recent weeks w/highly knowledgable people forced me to conclude that I had that wrong. It may be him too. But the burn it down attitude, the upping the ante, everything we saw in the statement released today by the campaign seems to be coming from Sanders himself. Right from the top."

Is there less here than meets the eye, in the long run?  Maybe.  Rolling Stone contacted a number of people who made abusive calls and emails to Nevada party officials, and found that most of them weren't even there, simply followed events online and vented--and later regretted it.

Both the Nevada officials as well as the Sanders campaign may be adding self-serving spin to their assertions, and headlines suggesting that party unity for the general election campaign is spinning out of reach are obvious click bait.

But what is clearly happening is an erosion of support for Sanders in party leadership and among Democrats who have so far supported him, along with implied and direct statements that the goodwill Sanders has built with officials who are Democrats, including Democratic colleagues in the Senate, has limits that his campaign is butting up against.  If things aren't resolved immediately after the California primary at the latest,  a serious division may result.  Bernie Sanders may be having his moment, but the Nevada moment may well be the turning point in his political future.

Update 5/20: Jonathan Chiat's column today makes these points: The contentions of Bernie supporters that they were somehow cheated in Nevada are (according to neutral observers) entirely wrong.  Without even considering the likely effects of a GOP assault on Bernie, his lead over Hillary vs. Trump in some recent polls is illusory.  While he acknowledges that Sanders may have reasons for staying in the race, "given the overall stakes of his behavior, his decision is also maddeningly narcissistic... it is at least possible that Sanders is getting carried away in a messianic fervor that he will not walk away from readily. A recent New York Times story described numerous Sanders staffers as “disheartened” by the campaigns “near-obsession with perceived conspiracies on the part of Mrs. Clinton’s allies.”  In other words, an ego trip.

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