STRIKE THREE

THE END OF THE SANDERS CAMPAIGN

Bernie Sanders Ralley at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie (between Dallas and Fort Worth) on Saturday, February 27, 2016

Bernie Sanders Rally at the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie (between Dallas and Fort Worth) on Saturday, February 27, 2016. Photo: Steve Rainwater

This is the way an insurgent campaign ends.

John Cassidy captured the mood after the New York primary:

[U]pset, angry, and disillusioned. Some are blaming voter fraud, others are blaming the media, and others are simply aghast. On Facebook, one Bernie enthusiast asked, how can so many people have voted for Hillary? I didn’t meet anybody who was voting for her.

Upset, angry, disillusioned, aghast. It reads like the first four of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression. Everything except acceptance.

It’s a familiar pattern to anyone who’s followed these political prairie-fire campaigns. The starry-eyed young supporters getting their first taste of campaign-induced euphoria, the improbable and unexpected early successes, the phantasm of victory almost within their grasp—a product mostly of isolation within the bubble of believers—the creeping realization that it’s not going to happen. And the conviction that, in the immortal words of the ‘thirties-era boxing manager Joe Jacobs, “We wuz robbed.”

It’s often a delusion of those who are young and/or new to politics, who believe with Galahad that their strength is as the strength of ten, because their hearts are pure. Their noble purpose is their sword and buckler. They can’t lose—not legitimately.

In campaigns, though, your strength is only the strength of the number of people who vote for you under the rules. Rules that can be arbitrary—Why is it three strikes and you’re out? Why not four strikes, or two?—but more often aren’t. Like, in fact, the super-delegate rule, which was instituted in 1982 precisely to keep the Democratic Party from nominating prairie-fire candidates who burn through the primaries but turn out to be, to borrow from Cole Porter, too hot not to cool down—candidates like George McGovern, Jimmy Carter*, and Bernie Sanders.

So it was throughout the primaries, and so it will be at the Democratic Convention. Hillary’s victory was not because of party rules, or her dynastic status or her campaign war-chest. As The New Yorker’s Cassidy put it, “the main reason that Clinton won is that she racked up big majorities among some key constituencies of today’s Democratic Party—women, blacks, Hispanics, and affluent, highly educated whites. Sanders carried the under-thirty demographic and white men—and that was about it.”

In other words, she got more votes.

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