May 9, 2016
By Joe Rothstein
Since Donald Trump’s blow-out victory in Indiana the national media has focused on what the Trump nomination will mean for the future direction of the Republican Party. The same questions can be asked about the Democratic Party. Both parties are undergoing revolutions.
Hillary Clinton almost certainly will be the Democratic nominee. She will have won it both with the delegate count, and with the most popular votes. At this writing, three million more votes have been cast for Clinton in Democratic primaries than for Sanders. When it’s all over, Clinton is likely to have won her party’s popular vote by a margin of 53 or 54 percent.
Nevertheless, that still means nearly half the voting Democrats choose a man few had ever heard of a year ago, a man who as recently as 2013 told Progressive magazine, “I am not a Democrat,” and who has out-campaigned Clinton with small campaign contributions, larger crowds and demonstrably more enthusiasm from supporters.
What’s more, many of the states Bernie Sanders has won so far could well be in play in November--Colorado, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, as prime examples. Clinton will need Sanders' voters in those states in November.
While match race polls with Trump look favorable for Clinton, she can’t ignore the fact that positive voter opinion of her hovers in the low 40% range, or that more than 45% of those in her own party preferred a self-identified democratic socialist with only the loosest of ties to the Democratic Party.
One more thing. In mid-June a “People's Summit” will convene in Chicago. This will be a big draw for liberals and a big media event. Think of it as an alternative convention, anointing Bernie Sanders and his agenda. In the weeks that follow the People’s Summit, Democrats will be hammering out their party platform. Unless the convention rules are changed, Sanders will have enough delegates on the platform committee to propose amendments that could be fodder for potentially contentious floor fights.
That’s exactly the leverage Sanders is hoping to bring to the Philadelphia convention. “If we don’t win, “Sanders said last week, “we intend to win every delegate we can so that when we go to Philadelphia, we will have the votes to put together the strongest progressive agenda that any party has ever seen.”
What would be in that agenda? Sanders’ wife Jane has said it would definitely include election reforms such as same day registration and open primaries. Also, expect a push for a $15 minimum wage, tuition free college, crack downs on Wall Street and other issues that have been central to the Sanders campaign.
Can Clinton buy into all of this to avoid damaging floor fights and still maintain support of the more general voting public? Most likely, yes. On most issues the space between Clinton and Sanders isn’t wide. The goals are similar. It’s the approach to getting there that separates them. Promising a more activist government should not be a problem with voters this year. Polls indicate the public’s distress with Washington isn’t that the federal government isn’t doing too much, but too little. The public seems ready to opt for a more active public sector, or what Sanders calls democratic socialism.
Pew Research made the startling discovery in a 2011 survey that more Americans had a favorable view of socialism than of capitalism. Polls in the years since have confirmed that result. The latest, just last month, from the Harvard Institute of Politics reported that only 19% of those 18-29 years old identified with capitalism. Support for capitalism was only slightly higher in the 34-50 age group. On the eve of this year’s Iowa’s caucuses, the Des Moines Register found that 43% of Democratic Party caucus goers considered themselves socialists.
An unbroken string of capitalist excesses---the banks and the recession; the auto companies hiding deadly equipment failures; BP and its gross negligence in the Gulf of Mexico; across the board tax-dodging; wanton exporting of jobs; multiple financial frauds; obscene executive pay--all have taken their toll on the public’s trust in unregulated capitalism. That, combined with so much neglect in public investment and services has combined to generate an entirely new outlook for voters.
Will Clinton move enough to satisfy the younger and more progressive voters she needs to get to the White House? Almost certainly. It’s not that big a leap for her. Sanders may not be president, but he’s likely to win his other campaign, to “put together the strongest progressive agenda that any party has ever seen.”