Everyone has focused so much on the populist victory in the Republican primaries that they may have missed the potential civil war on the other side. Over the last few days that conflict has broken out into the open, with Democratic officials taking sides and grassroots progressives growing increasingly angry with what they see as top-down rigging of the process in favor of Hillary Clinton and the “establishment.” It has gotten bad enough that former Barack Obama adviser Van Jones told CNN yesterday that he wishes that Reince Priebus would chair the DNC rather than Debbie Wasserman Schultz:
“Hillary Clinton was going to win but she played it badly, then you had people that overreacted,” Jones continued. “If you’re the chair, you’ve got to come out and say I don’t like some of the things I’ve heard about… If you come out and just smash on one side, you lose the ability to be the arbiter and that’s what happened last night [with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz] and I think there are going to be repercussions for that for the long term.”
Jones pointed out that Clinton had done a “great job” as the United States’ top diplomat, “but the diplomacy when it comes to Sanders has just been below sub par.”
“You’ve got a situation now where I think you have a leadership failure possibly in both wings of the party,” the CNN contributor observed. “And, Debbie, who should be the umpire, who should be the marriage counselor is coming in harder for Hillary Clinton that she is for herself.”
“That’s malpractice. I wish Reince Priebus was my party chair. He did a better job of handling the Trump situation than I’ve seen my party chair handle this situation. I’m ashamed to say that.”
Jones makes an important point here, and gets to the heart of why the Democratic civil war has much deeper implications for the party. While some people still blame Reince Priebus for somehow failing to stop Donald Trump from winning the nomination, the truth is that it’s not the job of a party chair to approve or reject potential nominees. That’s the job of the voters. The party chair and the party apparatus exists to provide a forum for that choice, and to act as impartial arbiters when conflicts arise between the campaigns. The divide in the GOP exists, of course, but it exists between the Donald Trump populists and the other factions within the Republican coalition — primarily conservative voters and activists. Priebus kept the GOP structure out of it for the most part, as he should have done, and in doing so made it much easier for the losers to reintegrate back into the Republican Party.
That has clearly not been the case with the DNC or Wasserman Schultz. Right from the moment that the DNC started scheduling debates for the least-watched time slots possible, it was abundantly clear that Wasserman Schultz was protecting Hillary Clinton at the expense of other candidates. Her tongue-lashing of Sanders after his statement about the Nevada convention made the bias even more clear, as did the sudden need for other prominent Democrats to blame Sanders for the chaos and scold his supporters as well. If that wasn’t enough, Senate Democrats huddled today to figure out how to tell Bernie to back off:
The lawmakers met in a closed-door session days after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was shouted down at the Nevada Democratic convention, an incident that shook Democrats and raised fears about a chaotic fight at the party’s upcoming national convention that might cost the party the White House.
Democrats in the room decided the best course would be to let Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) handle the delicate task of talking to Sanders about the increasingly negative tone of supporters of his presidential bid, according to sources familiar with what happened at the meeting. …
Sanders is a political independent who caucuses with Democrats. That’s made him a bit of an outsider with his colleagues, something highlighted by the Vermont senator’s rebuke this week of a Democratic Party he says should open its doors to political independents.
The presidential candidate is not chummy with his colleagues.
Keep this in mind: Until he ran for the presidential nomination, Sanders had never identified himself as a Democrat. He caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, and he ran for the presidential nomination within the party because it’s the only serious option available to him. Until this week, everyone expected Sanders to fold his movement within the general-election effort to elect Hillary Clinton for the same reason.
If the party establishment picks a fight with him now, though, why would Sanders submit to them in July? The conventional answer would be that Bernie has nowhere else to go, and would want to have an influential position within the Democratic Party and a Hillary Clinton administration. That seems like a pretty thin draw for someone who’s already 74 years old and doesn’t have a long-term career ahead of him, especially when the carrot in this instance is joining same party establishment that he believes has cheated him out of a fair shot at the nomination.
But what if Bernie does have someplace else to take his movement — a place that actually provides a better ideological fit and would allow for Sanders to truly test his power? As it turns out, there may be at least a theoretical option for Sanders that doesn’t exist for dissident Republicans on the Right, a point I make in my column for The Fiscal Times today:
All of the independent-bid scenarios on the Right have two fatal structural flaws. The first is that they lack a candidate with a national draw; the second is that they lack the organization and time to make it onto enough state ballots. …
Do these fatal structural flaws apply to Bernie Sanders? In this case, Sanders himself would be the candidate, and he clearly has a passionate national following. The lifelong backbencher has won 46 percent of the pledged delegates in the Democratic primaries while running against the Clinton machine. Sanders has won coast to coast, and with the exception of the deep South, has won states in every region. His army of voters continues to grow as his wins later in the primary process demonstrates.
Sanders would still face the same sore-loser laws and ballot access issues as would a conservative independent – if he didn’t have an established party to back him. Unlike conservatives, who lack such a nationally established option, there is at least a possibility that Sanders could appeal to the Green Party. The Greens will hold their convention a couple of weeks after the Democrats do, in the first weekend of August.
The Green Party has a fairly open and fluid nomination process. They have two recognized candidates already vying for the nomination: 2012 nominee Jill Stein and academic Bill Kreml, not exactly household names, plus a few others that have not yet been recognized. If Sanders shows up on their doorstep with several million supporters, I suspect that the Green Party leadership might manage to work around the limitations to give their delegates a chance to nominate Sanders and rapidly expand their version of the progressive movement. A Sanders merger could also help the Greens fight through some ballot access issues that have plagued them since Ralph Nader’s run in 2000.
The Green Party appears on enough states to matter, though:
Sanders could get on enough ballots to have a major impact on the general election. New York, California, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Colorado are among the 20 states where the Green nominee will get a spot on the ballot no matter what. Those seven states represent 144 Electoral College votes that went to Democrats in 2012. If Sanders split the Left in those states, it might push those states to the GOP; if Sanders actually won those states, it would throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans would control the outcome.
All that said, this is just a theoretical possibility at the moment. It’s far more likely that Sanders will hold onto his delegates and force changes at the convention — assuming the DNC and senior Democrats don’t do anything more to sabotage his campaign. But Sanders, who has never had much of an affinity for the DNC or the Democratic Party, certainly could decide to take his followers out of the party and into another that would have more appreciation for his politics … and his voters.