© Josh Sager – April 2016
At the start of this primary season, there were many pundits and establishment talking heads who completely discounted the idea that Bernie Sanders would pose any threat to Hillary Clinton—they argued that he was too old, too liberal, too idealistic, and too out of the mainstream to gain any following. In the run-up to some of the early races, some of these “experts” even publicly mused about the likelihood of Bernie only winning New Hampshire and Vermont.
Obviously, these pundits couldn’t have been more wrong and we are now seeing a situation where Bernie Sanders—the Jewish Democratic Socialist from Vermont who refuses to take corporate donations or even start a super-PAC—is a real contender against Hillary Clinton—the long-standing favorite of the establishment with universal name recognition and millions in her campaign war chest. Bernie is only trailing Hillary by just over 200 delegates, and has won 7 of the last 8 races by devastating margins.
Red = Most Delegates Hillary; Blue = Most Delegates Bernie; Purple = Delegate Tie
While I would love to see Bernie as president, the math still favors Hillary and she is the favorite to win the primary—her victories in the deep south have created a large, but not impossible, impediment for Bernie to overcome. He needs to win significant victories in the coming states, including New York and California, while overcoming the closed primary system which disenfranchises many younger voters, students and independents, all of whom are statistically likely to vote for him.
That said, there is a real argument that Bernie has already won this election cycle, even if he loses the primary to Hillary. In addition to the fact that Bernie has forced Hillary to adopt most of his positions (e.g. on trade, worker’s rights, immigration, etc.) he has also captured the support of the vast majority of young voters.
Bernie’s success in controlling the narrative is so obvious that SNL used it to lampoon Hillary.
Even if the establishment manages to defeat Bernie at the convention, his message will live on and he may achieve more with his strong primary performance than Hillary could hope to achieve as president. By her own admission Hillary will not push for dramatic change to the status quo, and there is a near certainty that Hillary will be met with the very same massive resistance that Obama has faced. Given these two factors, it is likely that a Hillary presidency would suffer from perpetual deadlock and she wouldn’t achieve anything of import during her 4-8 years in office.
Bernie is the most popular American politician among 18-29 year olds and has won overwhelming victories (over 80%) of young voters in virtually all of the primary/caucus contests—these victories persist across all demographics, including among men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, the working class and the upper class. He has won a majority of voters under the age of 35, and, in most states, has captured significant percentages of the under 45 vote.
Young voters, particularly high-engaged young voters, are the future leaders of any political party. These young activists and leaders vote, organize, run for office, and become the thought leaders of the party several decades down the road. In effect, the youth today become the establishment 20-30 years in the future, thus anybody who shapes the youth has the power to control the political future. Bernie has embodied the concerns of the young and his ideals will likely shape their future political preferences for the rest of their lives.
Hillary is the candidate of the current establishment and has won largely due to overwhelming support from older voters, particularly African American seniors. In the coming decades, the voters who supported Hillary will die off, while the voters who supported Bernie will gradually matriculate up to higher levels of power. While it is certainly true that many of these young liberals will fall to the lure of corruption and money in politics, many will not and will become champions of Bernie’s message.
In effect, Bernie has won the future of the Democratic Party, even if its past still has the power to block him from the presidency. His values will live on long after his primary bid or presidency ends, while the establishment that so derides him is gradually replaced.