Tuesday’s record Republican turnout and string of victories for Donald Trump should serve as a wake-up call to progressive activists. There is another “revolution” happening in America, and Sen. Bernie Sanders is not at the helm. For all the media hype, Trump was not the runaway winner of Super Tuesday. That trophy belongs to Hillary Clinton LAW ’73. The results signal that it is time for Bernie’s most ardent supporters to emerge from their social media echo chambers. The so-called “political revolution” is dead.
Bernie has underperformed in almost every contest thus far. It’s true that there is some favorable terrain for Sanders in the coming weeks, and we can expect the Vermont senator to tally up many more states. But therein lies the problem: The Democratic nomination is not won by winning states; it is won by building coalitions and winning delegates.
Sanders seems not to have learned the lessons of his rival’s failed 2008 bid for the White House, when Barack Obama strategically siphoned away Clinton’s delegates in states where she was declared the winner and made up for his losses by steamrolling his opponent in places her campaign neglected. In the end it didn’t matter that she had won many of the delegate-rich states and the overall popular vote. After Tuesday, Sanders finds himself nearly 200 delegates and 1.3 million votes in the hole, and the next month of contests will probably widen that gap significantly.
Two months into primary season, most Sanders supporters look the same: liberal, white, young and male. Clinton, on the other hand, has built a strong, diverse coalition that reflects the makeup of both the Democratic Party and the United States more broadly. African-Americans continue to vote for Clinton in unheard-of proportions. Results from southern Texas — specifically places like Hidalgo County, which went overwhelmingly for Clinton — dispel the myth that Sanders has made inroads in the Latino community. Clinton consistently racks up large wins with moderate Democrats, and holds her own with liberals. All the talk of Clinton losing women was unfounded, as she easily dominated Sanders 2:1. Tuesday even showed that Sanders’ supposed advantage with “millennials” is largely confined to whites.
All of this is not to say that the party should coalesce around Secretary Clinton so soon. Sanders has made her a far better candidate, pushing her to align with contemporary liberal politics in a way that probably would not have happened otherwise. It took several Sanders-induced evolutions of Clinton messaging to finally reach the now-resonating “breaking barriers” theme. Presidents keep their campaign promises more often than not. Hillary’s voters are blacker and browner than eight years ago, and this shows in her platform. If she is elected, Barack Obama would pass the torch to the most progressive president in history.
The senator’s fundraising prowess and ability to decisively win a handful of states will allow him to continue until June. Keeping Clinton on her toes will benefit her, the Democratic Party and Bernie himself. In his Vermont victory speech, Sanders told the adoring crowd, “This campaign is not just about electing the president. It is about transforming America.” If the senator wishes to carry out this mission, he has to start playing by (some of) the rules. That begins with not burning more bridges within the Democratic Party, an institution in which he very recently decided to claim membership and has few close allies.
By dialing down the character-assaults-by-insinuation and focusing solely on a positive and uplifting message, Sanders can continue to collect delegates without fracturing the party. When he arrives at the Democratic convention in July with a respectable number of delegates, he can heavily influence the party platform and raise his stature significantly. From there he would endorse Clinton and stump for both her and down-ballot Democrats, uniting the party just as Clinton did in 2008. This would set him up to be a powerful senator under a potential Clinton administration. More importantly, it would afford him the political capital to fashion the future of American progressive politics in his image. Out of the ashes of the revolution could rise better candidates and better messengers than Sanders, ready to take us in new and exciting directions. The value of this potential cannot be overstated.
In many ways, Sanders and his voters represent the future of the Democratic Party. The revolution may be dead, but that need not always be so. The choices Sanders makes moving forward could determine the course of the general election and whether the support he has mustered will fizzle out or translate into a renewed progressive energy to take back Congress, state legislatures and eventually the Presidency.
Mitch Barrows is a senior in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .