Saturday, February 23, 2019

The 2016 Democratic Primary Was Not Rigged Against Bernie Sanders

As co-host of her television show The View, Meghan McCain was quoted this past week as saying:
“The thing I will say about [Bernie Sanders] is don’t underestimate him,” the View co-host said Tuesday, citing his 2016 sweep of New Hampshire and his success in taking nearly half of Iowa — the first two primary states, which will be important targets for candidates.

“This time there are no superdelegates to come against him at the convention like what happened before,” McCain added, referring to the Democratic National Committee’s rule change last year that stripped superdelegates of much of their power in deciding the party’s nominee.

McCain echoes an opinion that by now, I suppose, has become conventional wisdom: that Hillary Clinton nabbed the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination dishonestly; that if the primary vote had been allowed to play out in a scrupulous manner, Sanders would have been the Democratic nominee (and, some add, would have beaten Donald Trump in a head-to-head contest — which professional observers say would have been unlikely).  In other words, McCain believes that Clinton depended on the superdelegates pledged in advance to her in order to prevail over Sanders, who would have won the nomination otherwise.  

I dunno.  Maybe the fact that Trump won?
And as I said, McCain isn’t the only one to believe that Clinton’s nomination was not on the up-and-up.  I’m guessing that this conspiracy theory permeates the aether because there is still some lingering bitterness over how the 2016 presidential election unfolded and how it was ultimately decided.  The revisionist perspective seems to be that if a seasoned politician like Hillary Clinton could lose the election to an obviously unqualified non-politician like Trump, she must have been a deeply flawed candidate and Sanders ought to have been the standard-bearer instead.  The results of the 2016 election were determined by several elements, not the least was interference by Russia in the electoral process.  But the way I see it, two other egregious factors in the election’s outcome were (1) the media nitpicking Clinton’s insubstantial e-mail story to death while giving Trump billions of dollars worth of free airtime and (2) the driving-down of the Democratic vote by anti-Hillary liberals (the most conspicuous of whom was Susan Sarandon), for whom Clinton was insufficiently progressive and “looked worse” in comparison to Trump.  Anyone who still believes that Clinton looks worse in relation to the norm-breaking and authoritarian-leaning Trump must be a die-hard follower.

But Kurt Eichenwald in his Newsweek article has thoroughly debunked the misapprehension that the Democratic primary was somehow rigged against Sanders.  Clinton won the Democratic nomination because she won the clear majority of votes in the primary, and there is no evidence that she came by those votes unethically.  Furthermore, her margin of victory was comfortable and did not require the superdelegates to clinch the nomination.  The Democratic National Committee e-mails, that were apparently stolen by anti-Hillary forces and dumped to counter the emergence of the embarrassing Access Hollywood tape of Trump boasting about assaulting women, contained some tasteless phrasing by DNC subordinates about Sanders and evinced a clear preference for Clinton (the actual Democrat) in the contest, but they did not reveal a primary process that intentionally disadvantaged Sanders.

A legitimate criticism of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is how it began.  The party’s major donors and the Democratic Party leadership virtually anointed Clinton as the Democratic standard-bearer, financially and institutionally discouraging any other major candidates, such as Vice President Joe Biden, from running against her.  So, the genesis of the Clinton campaign suggests some collusion on the part of the Democratic Party’s major players to clear a path for her so that she could run in the primaries all but unopposed, and this betrays a Democratic primary that was not as democratic as it ought to have been.  To this day, Clinton critics take this anointing a step further and say the Democratic Party’s favoring of her at the primary’s early stages involved coercion to compel other major candidates not to run, but there is no credible evidence of this.  Furthermore, as Ezra Klein points out, Clinton’s cleared path provided an opening for Sanders to run as the most conspicuous alternative to her, an opening that he dexterously seized.  So, any Democratic Party collusion at the start of Clinton’s campaign worked in Sanders’ favor, not against it.  However, once the initial voting got underway, “the overall 2016 primary process was fair,” in the words of Senator Elizabeth Warren, who once agreed that the primary had been rigged but then backtracked (see the Klein article).

Still, given the acrimony over the results of the 2016 presidential election and the severe dislike of Hillary Clinton in some quarters of the liberal left, I suspect that the misapprehension of how the vote went down will harden into doctrine.  The idea that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged against Sanders might become one more “fact” that never really happened.

No comments: