This Politico story frighteningly details the death threats Republican delegates are receiving from Trump supporters. While Trump should not bear responsibility for everything that his supporters do, it is notable that in this election cycle violence has only occurred at Trump rallies and only Trump has supported violence at his rallies. Candidates’ rhetoric matters. It is clear that many supporters respond to the most extreme aspects of candidates’ statements and may take metaphorical statements literally, although it is always difficult to tell if Trump is speaking seriously, jokingly, metaphorically, or literally. Certainly one reason Trump’s supporters are fired up is because Trump often blasts the “rigged” system of how Republicans nominate their candidate for president.
Trump isn’t the only one who believes the system is rigged. Bernie supporters, spurred on by Bernie, have also complained often and loudly that the Democratic system for nominating their candidate for president is rigged. Thankfully, there have been no reported threats of violence from Bernie supporters. Their only threats have been not voting in November if Bernie isn’t the candidate. This is a far more reasonable (and legal) method of political protest.
Nonetheless, I think it’s misguided.
There are a number of specific arguments regarding how the Democratic primary unfairly benefits Hillary. A lot of these are either based on misinformation or lack support. For brevity’s sake, let’s just look at the most recent primary in New York. One of the first issues that Bernie complained about was that Hillary was maybe not going to agree to a debate in New York. And then she did. Then Bernie supporters complained that Hillary was trying to steal the election because New York has a closed primary with onerous rules for changing party designation. But as a I previously wrote about, those rules have been in place for years and have nothing to do with Hillary. There were also complaints of an extremely large number of voters in Brooklyn being left off the voter rolls for the primary. This is a travesty and should be investigated, as it is (the Board of Election’s chief clerk has been suspended without pay during the investigation), but it would be a very odd strategy for Hillary to purge voters from Brooklyn. She won Brooklyn 60%-40%, an even greater margin than she won the state. If she had the desire and ability to purge voters, it probably would have made sense to purge voters from areas that voted against her (and not do it in a way that would lead to an investigation).
The larger point, though, is the thinking of Bernie supporters that the system is designed so only Hillary could win. It’s designed to benefit her and not Bernie. The Clinton Machine is rigged. It’s an unfair fight.
The Democratic system for nominating a presidential candidate is not perfect–far from it. There are certainly ways it should be improved. But the arguments that an upstart challenger cannot win the Democratic system, especially when the system wants a Clinton to win, overlook one huge thing: just 8 years ago, during the last Democratic primary, an upstart challenger defeated Hillary.
Bernie’s supporters seem to ignore that during the last Democratic nomination Barack Obama, faced with all of the same challenges that Bernie is–the Clinton machine, some states with caucuses and some states with primaries, the mainstream media, etc. etc.–beat Hillary. The simple truth, as difficult as it may be for Bernie supporters to admit, is that he just doesn’t appear to be a good enough candidate to beat Hillary. The exact reason(s) (too liberal, too old, too negative, not wonky enough, seemingly not interested in anything other than economic inequality) don’t particularly matter.
What matters is how Bernie and his supporters and Trump and his supporters act moving forward.
Hopefully Trump’s supporters won’t resort to violence.
Hopefully Bernie’s supporters won’t sit out the general election. Bernie has exceeded many expectations with his campaign. He has done many admirable things. He has pushed Hillary to the left. He has brought economic inequality into the national spotlight. He has made Citizens United and campaign finance important issues. But if he is to have a positive legacy, he needs to accomplish something. Other than a few amendments, his legislative record is not particularly inspiring or memorable. He could become a footnote in history, and perhaps an exceptionally negative one, if his attacks and failure to support Hillary if she wins the nomination (as it appears overwhelmingly that she will) lead to a general election loss. He could be remembered and remembered fondly, however, if he brings his impressive grassroots supporters and fundraising to help bring a Democratic sweep of Congress and the Presidency. As a senator, and perhaps the most important one in such a scenario, he could lead a progressive agenda that would make him and his supporters proud.
Here is a video of Hillary at the 2008 DNC convention. This is how to lose with grace and do what’s best for the progressive movement in the United States. I can only hope Bernie feels the same way and does something similar if he doesn’t have the delegates in Philadelphia.