Sanders Runs Out of Arguments for How He Can Win

By Philip Bump – – – – –

Bernie Sanders’s campaign has hustle. That’s hustle in the work-hard, keep-it-together-when-it’s-falling-apart sense — and, a bit, in the three-card-monte sense. As the campaign has progressed and Sanders’s chances went from zero to 49 percent, the campaign created acascading set of explanations for how the senator from Vermont would end up as the party’s nominee.

This was uncut hustle, according to Politico’s behind-the-scenes look at the campaign. “Top Sanders aides admit that it’s been weeks, if not months, since they themselves realized he wasn’t going to win,” Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel Debenedetti write. But they kept weaving webs of explanations for how it would happen, just enough binding to hold the movement together.

As of Tuesday, those webs have broken apart. Not only because Politico’s piece gives the lie to the idea that the campaign itself thinks that it can win, but because all of the arguments that the campaign has made for why superdelegates should give him their votes were washed away by the last big night of voting.

That’s Sanders’s only remaining hope: To persuade lots of Clinton-supporting superdelegates to back him at the convention. But there are no reasons left for them to do so.

Sanders doesn’t have momentum

An argument that was suggested is that Sanders’s strength later in the campaign was a reflection of how the party had moved away from Clinton and toward him. But those arguments about momentum never panned out.

There were two points over the course of the race when the Sanders campaign claimed the advantage of momentum. The first was at the end of March and into early April, when Sanders supporters argued that a string of win in seven contests presaged a shift in the nature of the race. That got buzzsawed by Clinton’s big win in New York — and her big wins the next week in other Northeastern states.

So Sanders turned to the last few weeks of the campaign, suggesting more modestly that a few late wins, including Oregon and, ultimately, California would make the same point. There was talk before Tuesday that Sanders could win five of Tuesday night’s six contests — maybe even six, if he somehow overperformed in New Jersey. On Tuesday, Sanders won two states, neither of which was New Jersey or California, the biggest prizes of the night.

The primaries are not quite over yet. Next week is the D.C. primary — but there’s no reason to think that Clinton won’t win it in a blowout. The reason Sanders did well in that first stretch of seven states was a combination of demographics — they were heavily white — and format. D.C. is a primary (not a caucus) in a city whose Democrats are predominantly black. That’s a combination that Sanders won’t overcome.

The national polls aren’t helping

From the beginning of the year until early April, Sanders closed the gap with Clinton in national polling in fits and starts. But in April, that trend reversed. Clinton and Sanders were about tied in the RealClearPolitics national polling average on April 12; by Sunday, Clinton had widened her lead to 11.4 points.

Hillary Clinton won a majority of pledged delegates

As we noted Tuesday night, Clinton’s win in California provided her enough delegates to finally claim a majority of all of the pledged delegates won through voting.

Coming into Tuesday, Clinton had won just more than 1,800 pledged delegates of the 4,051 available. To get a majority, a candidate needs 2,026 of those delegates.

Clinton won about 100 delegates by winning New Jersey, South Dakota and New Mexico and thanks to basically tying in Montana (Sanders technically won narrowly). In California, the state with the most available delegates, she won more than 200. (The precise number is still being sorted out.) She had clinched a majority.

Clinton has a majority of all delegates

Of course, Clinton also has a wide lead with those superdelegates, who can back anyone they want. It’s that lead that prompted the Associated Press’s controversial announcement that Clinton had clinched the nomination.

Not only does Clinton lead among superdelegates, shifting the superdelegate rules so that they must necessarily go to the winner of a state or be distributed proportionally would not change the outcome. Before Tuesday, we looked at how totals would shift under those scenarios; in each case, Clinton still got a majority of superdelegates (though by a smaller margin than she currently enjoys). The only way Sanders can eat into her superdelegate lead is by persuading her supporters to switch to him.

No superdelegates have shown a willingness to change their minds

Sanders started talking about flipping superdelegates back in March, arguing that a close race among pledged delegates would open the door to such a strategy. Since then, he has used the arguments listed here to successfully flip a grand total of zero superdelegates.

Two superdelegates have changed their minds, mind you. One, from Puerto Rico, moved away from supporting Clinton to declare herself uncommitted — but she eventually moved back to Clinton. One from the Virgin Islands flipped from Sanders to Clinton.

Clinton has more votes

With her big wins in California and New Jersey, Clinton will pad her existing popular-vote leadby thousands more votes. Final vote tallies are not available, but her 2.9 million-vote lead in the middle of last month will add about 200,000 votes in New Jersey and perhaps 400,000 more in California. The final margin will end up near 3.5 million votes.

That figure includes the split from caucuses, contrary to popular belief, and provides one of the strongest arguments to superdelegates against Sanders: Far more Democrats, voting at various points in the election cycle, preferred Clinton to Sanders.

Clinton still beats Donald Trump in general-election polling

About the only argument that has held for Sanders is that he outperforms Clinton in general-election polling. There are a lot of caveats to that, including that polling this far out is fairly iffy.

But it’s hard to see how that will be a persuasive argument considering that Clinton also beats Trump in polling.

RealClearPolitics’s polling average tightened after Trump locked up the Republican nomination, but recently it’s started to widen once again.


Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.

Follow @pbump


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