Bernie Sanders, hypocrite, or canny operator?
Sanders has been a force of nature since his nova-like emergence on the presidential campaign about this time last year. The Vermont senator has thrilled millions with his message of inequality and his call to revolution. He’s stood for straight talk, and he has all those big ideas. But he’s also represented a certain purity, an incorruptible and uncompromising purity. Bernie is Bernie, and always would be.
Part of that purity was his lambasting of what he said was a rigged election system that favored opponent Hillary Clinton. He ranted about campaign financing and the influence of big money on politics. He also was sharply critical of the role of superdelegates in the Democratic Party. Those are the more than 700 party insiders who are not elected in presidential primaries or caucuses and who are not bound to any particular candidate, until they declare their fealty.
Superdelegates, Sanders said forcefully, thwart the will of the people. And Bernie is all about the people and the sacredness of their votes in primaries and caucuses.
Now Sanders, who’s gotten closer to a win that he probably thought possible, is looking at the delegate math and a dwindling primary calendar, and he’s pinning his hopes for the nomination on those very same superdelegates.
It’s not that he’s not drawing a logical conclusion based on the numbers. He is. But who thought Sanders would resort to an insider’s game to get what he wanted? That’s what traditional, bought-and-sold, machine politicians like Clinton do, not a principled outsider like Sanders. Right?
Here’s the math: In primaries and caucuses thus far, Clinton has more than 1,900 delegates to Sanders’ nearly 1,200. Of those, Clinton has 502 superdelegates to Sanders’ 38. Either needs 2,383 for the nomination, with 1,646 still to be won.
Now add this: There are five more primaries on Tuesday — Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island — and Clinton leads in the four states with recent polling. She’s also ahead in California and New Jersey, by far the two biggest states after that.
That’s bad math for Bernie.
So after Sanders’ big loss in New York last week, campaign manager Jeff Weaver said the campaign would try to flip enough superdelegates Sanders’ way to win the nomination — even if Clinton has won the most pledged delegates and the most popular votes by the convention in July, as seems extremely likely.
Why, suddenly, don’t the voters matter? How did Sanders go from America’s front porch to the Democrats’ backroom?
His rationalization for subverting voters is that he’d do better in the fall against the Republican nominee, whoever that might be, than Clinton. And in that he is aligned with Sen. Ted Cruz, who is arguing for a floor fight in the Republican convention because he says he’d do better against Clinton than GOP front-runner Donald Trump. And he’s like Trump himself, who rails about the GOP’s rigged system but then hires his own experts to beat it.
Politics makes strange bedfellows? Sanders, Cruz and Trump are sharing the same primary pillow.
To be clear, I’m not asking Sanders to back off Clinton. He has tons of people who love him and seemingly endless amounts of money to bern. And he has every right to keep running, even if it’s a quixotic pursuit and even if party members with long memories are being reminded of the damage Eugene McCarthy did to Hubert Humphrey in 1968.
But I wish he’d stick to his principles. That’s what has distinguished him. In compromising those, Sanders becomes the kind of politician he deplores.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.