Politico’s Nerdcast, a great podcast for people who care just a little too much about the 2016 election, pondered the question of whether Bernie Sanders’ behavior in his ongoing primary bid would ultimately cost Hillary Clinton in the general election. The consensus, even after paying lip service to Sanders’ lack of longstanding party loyalty, was the same as the conclusion of many other pundits: that the campaign hadn’t been so contentious and so personal that his supporters couldn’t support Clinton in the fall and that even if they had reservations the specter of a Donald Trump presidency would ensure their good behavior. While they are right about Sanders’ relatively gentle treatment of Clinton, he has waged a scorched earth battle against the integrity of the Democratic party. The Bernie Sanders campaign has been nothing but a quest to paint Hillary Clinton, should she win, as the untrustworthy beneficiary of a process that is anything but democratic.
The story of why Bernie Sanders became a Democrat is well-published by this point. Despite all the criticism he’d leveled at Democrats over the years, Sanders recognized the advantage of the money and media coverage a major political party brings to a presidential candidacy. Beyond that political greed, though, his choice also tells us a lot about how he viewed his candidacy from the beginning. Sanders wouldn’t be a doomed protest candidate like Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. Sanders wanted to compete in an arena where victory—electoral victory—was possible. This kind of about face political opportunism would have seen Hillary Clinton burned in effigy, but Sanders—in a brilliant move—created an enemy that let him retain the appearance of honest independence even as he benefited from the trappings of political party he has never been loyal to.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz has become a household name for anyone following this election. The seemingly nefarious DNC chair is the one with her finger on the scale in an effort to crown Hillary Clinton the nominee. Schultz resisted a better debate schedule. Schultz won’t compel states with closed primaries to let independents vote. Schultz is coordinating fundraising with Hillary Clinton. No doubt if Schultz set foot in the Large Hadron Collider she would open a black hole that could swallow us all. Pundits are right when they say that Sanders has taken a relatively kid gloves approach to Clinton. But he has laid into the DNC since day one, criticizing rules that he was aware of from the start (closed primaries, super delegates, shared fundraising, etc.) and creating an environment where his supporters would begin to see the entire primary process as inherently unfair. Suddenly closed primaries are synonymous with “disenfranchisement” and “voter suppression” and Hillary Clinton’s wins are explained away. The independent senator, while making obvious his lack of any loyalty to the Democratic Party, has retained his independent credentials by choosing to endure an obviously rigged process in order to shine a light on its inequities.
As for Sanders’ nominal opponent, Hillary Clinton’s mysterious Goldman Sachs speeches and her big donor fundraisers make clear that she is—in Sanders’ world—nothing more than an agent of the big banks. While there’s no evidence that Clinton’s been bribed outright, Sanders is more than willing to insinuate that she has. And it’s this champion of his rigged economy that stands to benefit by the rigged political process he has chosen to fight against.
Thus we arrive at the Nevada state convention. Regardless of which of many versions of the story you want to believe, the basic facts are that by taking advantage of party rules, there were two additional delegates that the Sanders campaign might have been able to take from Clinton (regardless of the actual caucus votes). Fast-forward from there to thrown chairs, death threats, and a statement from Sanders that decries the violence while blaming it on DNC rules he knew existed. Democrats are right to fret over chaos at their convention; Sanders is shepherding his flock and the DNC must bend the knee if they wish to benefit from it.
For what such testimony is worth, I am friends with a lot of Sanders supporters. They are all intelligent people (despite what I might call a dubious relationship with math). They are vocal with their support but not the kind to throw chairs. And they have greeted every Clinton victory outside the south with skepticism and an eagerness to believe in voter fraud as the explanation for her winning the state. They agree with Sanders’ critique of the DNC and blame his impending defeat chiefly on Schultz’s bad behavior and the rigged big money politics that Hillary Clinton is (perhaps) in the pocket of. They are not loyal Democrats. They want a Sanders third-party bid (something he’s said he wouldn’t do—but then he also decried super delegates before they became his victory strategy). To them Clinton’s obvious corruption is as big a threat as everything Trump represents, and they will not vote for her. Bernie Sanders created this monster in the Democrats’ midst, and Democrats are correct in thinking that only he can defeat it—only he can bring his ardent followers to them in the fall. The problem for Democrats is that it’s their party he’s been running against all along.