What makes Bernie (continue to) run?

UPDATE Lots of Twitter response to this. No, I’m not accusing Sanders of “grifting.” His goal is influence, not money. I’m just asking him to level with his followers.

Nate Silver, whose predictions I rely on below, sums up today’s voting: Sanders won two of three states, but actually fell 11 delegates farther behind Clinton, and three delegates farther behind his target pace. “Overall, it was actually a bad day for Sanders by the math, even with his two wins.”


Many Sanders supporters continue to believe that their candidate has a serious chance at the nomination. That belief does not appear to have a sound basis.

The oddsmakers have him at 12:1 (somewhat worse than drawing to an inside straight). FiveThirtyEight.com has a demographics-based model that specifies how well each candidate would have to do in each state to be on track for a majority of the ordinary delegates (ignoring Clinton’s big edge in super-delegates). So far, of the 13 contests run, Sanders has over-performed in three (Vermont, Colorado, and Oklahoma), hit his target in New Hampshire, and under-performed in the other 11, including Minnesota (which he carried, but by less than he would have needed to in order to stay on track). Overall, he’s at 83% of his delegate target so far, with Clinton at 116% of hers.

In the primaries just ahead, FiveThirtyEight predicts that Clinton will run 25 points ahead of Sanders in in Michigan, and by just about the same margin in Florida and Illinois. In Ohio and North Carolina, she’s projected to win by only 13-15 points. (Those are the “polls-only” forecasts. The 538 “polls-plus” extends her leads in each case.)

Yet Politico reports that Sanders’s expected wins in Kansas, Maine, and Nebraska this weekend (three very white states where he’s spent a ton of money) are supposed to “provide a burst of momentum” for his campaign, despite his expected thrashing in Louisiana. Since LA has about three-quarters of the population of the other three combined, delegate pick-ups for the weekend are likely to be more or less even.

So what are the Sanders people up to? Someone I know who talks to people inside the Sanders campaign is hearing that realists there do not see a plausible path to his nomination. He is committed to staying in the race for the purpose of maximizing leverage by building a large group of delegates, with 1000 being used as a rough target.

For some Sanders supporters, that would be a good enough reason to carry on.  But others still sincerely think he can be nominated, and that either (1) he would be a better president than HRC or (2) he has a better chance than HRC to beat Trump or whoever. It’s not at all clear that those folks would keep working and giving for the purpose of building a movement or influencing the platform. And some of them, if they knew that Clinton had a virtual lock on the nomination and that the Sanders campaign understood that, would probably decide that their effort was better given to the task of winning in November. It’s hard to tell a story where Sanders’s continued hammering away at Clinton as a tool of Wall Street makes us safer from Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

It seems to me that second group is, in effect, being cheated out of time and money. I bitterly recall writing what for me at the time was a substantial check to the McGovern campaign in the fall of 1972, in response to a desperate-sounding direct mail appeal and inspired by the idea that I was helping to defeat Richard Nixon. Only later did I learn that McGovern’s advisers, having given up on the Presidency by October, decided to cut back on expenditures to run a surplus, which was then diverted – perfectly legally – to McGovern’s Senate re-election campaign two years later.  I felt – still feel – that I’d been flim-flammed.

Now, there’s no reason to think that the Sanders campaign is contemplating a similar gimmick. But the principle seems to me the same: the managers of the campaign getting people to give, and to work, in the false belief that they’re helping to elect a President. Not OK.

Footnote Surely this is not a secret from the reporters covering the Sanders campaign. But I’ve seen no hint of it in print. Of course as long as the campaign continues, the people writing about it have stories to write, and of course any one of them who reported what was said to me would get the cold shoulder from Sanders and his staff. Still, isn’t it the job of journalists to tell their readers what they know?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

12 thoughts on “What makes Bernie (continue to) run?”

  1. I'd be horrified to see Sanders elected. But there is, in fact, a realistic route to the nomination for him, and he may be pursuing it.

    What I believe he's doing is positioning himself as the default alternative to Hillary in the event she is indicted, or otherwise fails to contain the consequences of her criminality. This doesn't require him to take her on directly and vigorously, and he doesn't have to attack her on those grounds himself. In fact, it's important that he not do that, or else the party machinery will be mobilized to destroy him.

    But by occupying the 2nd place position, he's tolerated, because a moderate degree of success on his part, not actually threatening her coronation, helps create the impression that the process isn't rigged. (Which, of course, it is.)

    Then, if the DoJ isn't completely compromised, or if it is, and the FBI goes public with what it has on her in response to that, she becomes damaged goods, and he's the only available alternative that wouldn't tear the party apart.

    Now, naturally, this isn't a route to the nomination you'd be inclined to notice. Everything damaging to Hillary is a fabrication in your universe. But I don't think Bernie lives in that particular consensual hallucination.

  2. He just filed for re-election to his Senate seat in 2018 (as an independetnt), so there's that – unwitting believers will be contributing to his next campaign.

  3. He needs to change his tune if he really wants to stay in because he is idealistic. Snidely tearing down Hillary doesn't push his platform, it just makes him (and our party) look bad.

  4. Long term Democrat here. Been voting pretty much straight D for almost 40 years. Have voted in every election, even the off years.

    I'm supporting Sanders because the modern Democratic party reminds me of the pre-Reagan Republican party. It claims to be a progressive party but when it comes right down to it they lean moneyed, establishment every time. And Hillary is their chosen candidate. Single-payer, for example. It makes a tremendous amount of sense both morally and economically. Is Hillary for it? No. Free college. Also a no brainer both morally and economically. Is Hillary for it? No. Higher taxes on the ultra-rich to help with inequality – also a moral and economic winner. Is Hillary for it? Not really. Very expensive discretionary wars with negative outcomes? Both a moral and economic loser. Will Hillary lead us into more of these? Absolutely. I hear Hillary and the rest of the Democratic party say they share my goals, but I've seen the Clinton and post-Clinton Democratic party say one thing to get elected, then do just the opposite when they get into office. I support Sanders not because he's an inevitable shoe-in, but because he is my choice for moral and economic reasons. It is my right to send a "up yours" message to the Democratic party for pushing such a weak and uninspiring candidate.

    The other reason why I support Sanders is because I AM a realist. I manage risks for a living. The Democratic party has taken a very high risk path with the Hillary coronation. So high, in fact, that I doubt she will be sworn in as President. Why?

    1) Hillary's strategy of running for a 3rd Obama term is very high risk. If anything happens between now and November – another recession, another terrorist attack, Libya/Syria/Israel/Russia/China get out of hand, whatever – she becomes the face that gets the blame. By running against all those issues Sanders is insulated from those criticisms. If he is still viable as a candidate when it happens then the Democrats can nominate him and have a chance of keeping the GOP out of the White House. Not having Sanders is like playing without a goalie.

    2) Hillary's email controversy might blow up. I'm not talking about the home server, or the fact that many of her emails contain classified information. The potential show-stopper is the possibility that the stories that are now circulating in right-wing media – that someone deliberately transcribed information from classified documents to an unclassified email – are actually true. If so then someone in her inner circle has committed serious crimes and she may be lawyering-up and appearing in court during the general election. It is very high risk.

    3) Voter turnout. Hillary is doing quite well with demographics that the GOP can't reach – blacks living in the former confederate states, for example – but not as well with the demographics leaning Trump or Cruz this year. Sanders has a much better potential for drawing the angry blue collar folks to the D side. There are a LOT of these people, they are very angry (especially the ones who get their facts from Fox news), and they don't trust Hillary. There is a high risk that these people will turn out to vote in force and put a Trump or Cruz into office. If I were a super delegate I'd strongly consider voting for Sanders because it is in the long term interest of the party to win in November.

    Well, this was long and rambling. TL;DR – I strongly support Sanders because I don't believe Hillary when she says she cares about my issues, and we need a fall-back in case any of Hillary's considerable risks become problems in the general election. .

    Oh, and Hillary's ethically questionable speaking fees? She did that to herself. Don't blame Sanders for her inability to explain it away.

    1. "If so then someone in her inner circle has committed serious crimes"

      "at her direction". Don't forget that part.

      Mark's relentless determination to pretend that every Democratic scandal is a fantasy concocted by Republicans is one of the reasons I find the name of this site so funny. "Reality based community" is rather like "People's Democratic Republic" in that regard. That you insist on calling yourself one is usually a sure sign you aren't one. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, where Mark is concerned.

      1. Distinction noted, but I'm not sure that it matters politically. If there is clear evidence that she ordered it then yeah, she's toast. But even without such evidence she'll be in trouble. The three big questions at the trial will be, "who knew, when did they know, and did the boss (Hillary) order it done?" She'll be tainted over the whole election season.

    2. "Hillary's strategy of running for a 3rd Obama term is very high risk. If anything happens between now and November – another recession, another terrorist attack, Libya/Syria/Israel/Russia/China get out of hand, whatever – she becomes the face that gets the blame. By running against all those issues Sanders is insulated from those criticisms. "

      In my world, it matters not who is the candidate; the incumbent party loses.

  5. I'm sorry, but yes, you are accusing him of a grift, otherwise why even bring up the topic when it adds nothing other than that to the post. A couple of other points. First, given that HRC refused to bow out gracefully in '08 until well after the handwriting was on the wall, this is just karma (which we all know is a bitch). Less snarkily, but more cynically, the Clinton campaign actually benefits right now from Sanders continuing on. With the current state of affairs on the Republican side, they will be garnering headlines in the press right up through the convention. The sooner Sanders drops out, the sooner the Democrats disappear from the news.That will just make it harder to build momentum in the general election.

    On second thought, it's even worse. Once Sanders drops out, the only headlines about Clinton will be as a result of the continuing effort by Republicans to drum up the email issue. There will be no positive press for Clinton, only stories that feed the impression that she is shady at best, a felon at worst. Perhaps you ought to toss the Sanders campaign a few bucks just to help Clinton.

  6. OF course it is a grift. Everything about Bernie Sanders is cynical and dishonest.

  7. Does Silver think Clinton can beat Trump? I didn't see that anywhere there.

  8. I agree that Sanders is a long shot as documented, and those who profess to see it as a near toss-up can be annoying. This is business as usual, however. The public and media more or less demand that candidates profess optimism to the limits of plausibility and beyond. Our peculiar presidential election process, and the perceived obligation of a candidate not to desert his or her loyal supporters, usually require not conceding until well after that result is inescapable. I see nothing at all surprising here.

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