Sanders Goes to War Against the Democrat Status Quo

Hillary Clinton never thought it would come to this. She never thought that she would still be campaigning in a primary race, much less feeling the pressure to win in a state like Kentucky. She never thought she’d have to jet around to thirteen campaign events in 10 days and spend $180,000 on a last-minute ad to try and rescue her chances in the Bluegrass State, a state which she won by a 66 to 30 percent margin eight years ago against then-Sen. Obama.

In the end, Clinton was able to claim a very narrow win, but it was Sen. Bernie Sanders who claimed the larger victory.

“In a closed primary—something I am not at all enthusiastic about—where independents are not allowed to vote…where Secretary Clinton defeated Barack Obama by 250,000 votes in 2008, it appears tonight that we’re going to end up with about half of the delegates,” Sanders said.

Clinton is no doubt breathing a sigh of relief (the optics of a loss in Kentucky would have been absolutely terrible), but she’s also probably panicked at the thought of capturing less than half of the votes that she did in 2008 (459,111 to 212,549). That’s a huge plunge in support that could be indicative of a serious problem in the general election.

For his part, Sanders is refusing to strike a conciliatory tone, which could dampen Clinton’s ability to lure Sanders’ progressive supporters. Part of his motivation seems to be the overt favoritism the party has displayed to Clinton. The New York Times’ reports

Defiant and determined to transform the Democratic Party, Senator Bernie Sanders is opening a two-month phase of his presidential campaign aimed at inflicting a heavy blow on Hillary Clinton in California and amassing enough leverage to advance his agenda at the convention in July — or even wrest the nomination from her.

But his newly resolute attitude is also the cumulative result of months of anger at the national Democratic Party over a debate schedule that his campaign said favored Mrs. Clinton; a fund-raising arrangement between the party and the Clinton campaign; the appointment of fierce Clinton partisans as leaders of important convention committees; and the party’s rebuke of Mr. Sanders on Tuesday for not clearly condemning a melee at the Nevada Democratic convention on Saturday.

Sanders’ feisty rhetoric actually translated into physical violence at the Nevada Democrat convention, where furious Sanders’ supporters threw chairs, started fights and booed party officials. The state party headquarters were also vandalized with pro-Sanders graffiti and the party chairwoman received death threats.

Rather than apologize for his supporters’ actions, Sanders released a scathing press release, saying that Democrat party leadership faced a choice.

“It can open its doors and welcome into the party people who are prepared to fight for real economic and social change. . .,” Sanders said. “Or the party can choose to maintain its status quo structure, remain dependent on big-money campaign contributions and be a party with limited participation and limited energy.”

When Sanders’ delivered a similar message to voters in Southern California, the crowd responded by chanting, “Bernie or Bust!”

And that’s the problem for Hillary Clinton and Democrats. Sanders appears not only willing, but happy to stoke rage and sow conspiracy theories among his supporters. He seems bound and determined to do permanent damage to Hillary Clinton, painting her as a hawkish, career politician who is in the pocket of Wall Street. That’s not a caricature you overcome. He’s not just burning bridges, he’s boiling the water underneath them.

Then again, it’s hard to criticize Sanders’ for his success or fault him for striking a chord with an ardent, albeit misguided, set of voters. If anything it’s indicative of Clinton’s weakness as a candidate. As Salon’s David Niose writes:

No matter what you think about Hillary Clinton as the presidential primaries wind down, there is one undeniable fact that lingers in the background. Despite having had enormous advantages from the start of the campaign—no serious competition from within the party, solid support from national party leaders, a massive war chest and a nationwide grassroots network built over the course of decades in national politics—Clinton has struggled to put away a 74-year-old Jewish socialist who has had almost no establishment support.

Say whatever you want about Clinton’s lengthy résumé—and her credentials are indeed impressive—her performance this primary season is hardly indicative of a strong candidate.

So although Sanders’ may not pose a legitimate threat to steal the nomination, he’s done something more damaging: He’s revealed Clinton’s weakness, not to Republicans or even independents, but to Democrats.