The bigger story though will be how the supporters of Bernie Sanders react.
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But first, a quotation from a biography of a former president:
(Johnson) evoked the image of a starving woman to describe President Nixon’s devastating impact on his Great Society. “And when she dies,” he concluded, “I, too, will die.”
On January 20, 1973, Nixon was inaugurated for a second term. The next day … a new Nixon plan was announced for the dismantling of the Great Society.
The following day, on January 22, 1973, Lyndon Johnson had what was diagnosed as a fatal heart attack … At 3:50 P.M. he had called the ranch switchboard and asked his Secret Service men to come at once. Before they reached his room, he had died.
The above heart-rending passage that ends Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of LBJ illustrates the potential cost of a Democratic loss in a presidential election. Their candidate Hubert Humphrey was beaten by Richard Nixon by a wafer-thin 0.7% of the vote in 1968 and yet that narrow loss was enough to ensure that the closest the USA ever got to a European-style social democratic settlement, Johnson’s Great Society, was obliterated four years later.The Democrats have since never managed to put it back together again.
It is not fanciful to think that the demonstrations and riots that wrecked havoc on the Democratic convention in Chicago that year were enough to lose them that 0.7% of the vote. Demonstrators on the political left helped destroy the chances of one of the most liberal men to run for the presidency being able to continue the legacy of arguably its most economically left-wing presidency, and in the process losing, in those clouds of teargas, its most important socio-economic gains for ever.
And so the American dream that started with FDR’s New Deal ended on those streets of Chicago 48 years ago. But at least the left had a very real reason to demonstrate in 1968: the Vietnam War.
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The suggestion that Bernie Sanders’ supporters might try to disrupt this year’s convention in Philadelphia over Hillary Clinton’s emails and some internal party organisation politics seems trite in comparison.
The stakes though are as high as in 1968. A Trump victory, with a Republican controlled Congress and (with Trump’s Supreme Court nomination) a conservative-controlled Supreme Court would unquestionably spell the end of Obamacare and many of the other advances of the last seven and a half years.
1968 is of course not the only example of left self-defeatism in American elections. In 2000, many on the left backed Ralph Nader saying that there was little to choose between Al Gore and George W Bush. Two massive wars, the Patriot Act, the disastrous failures in response to Hurricane Katrina, the banking collapse, the shredding of environmental protections and the massive tax cuts for the rich show how wrong that judgement proved.
Tomorrow sees six states vote in the Democratic primaries: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota.
But whoever wins which state, Hillary Clinton will be declared the Democratic candidate for the presidency. That is because the elections are not winner-takes-all (as some Republican contests have been) but have delegates awarded on a proportional basis.
To win, a candidate needs to secure 2,383 delegates. Following the weekend’s caucus in the Virgin Islands and primary in Puerto Rico, Clinton now has 2,357 – only 26 delegates short of the magic number.
Bernie Sanders, in contrast, has 1,567 delegates: 816 short.So, Sanders needs to win an unfeasible 97% of the vote across all six states to win the nomination.
In reality, the polls will probably not have closed in five of the states by the time Clinton becomes the presumptive nominee: she only needs to win 21% of the 126 delegates on offer in New Jersey (the first state to vote tomorrow) to get over the line.
She will easily do that: the latest YouGov poll put her 27% ahead of Sanders in the state.
The polls also suggest that she will win the biggest prize of them all: the majority of California’s 475 delegates, although the result may be close. The third largest contest tomorrow, New Mexico with 34 delegates, is also likely to back Clinton given its large Hispanic electorate.
Sanders may well do better in the remaining three states, but they only have 59 delegates between them: 21 in Montana, 20 in South Dakota and 18 in North Dakota.
Hasn’t Clinton just won because of the super delegates?
In a word, no.
Whilst it is true that she has secured the vast majority of super delegates (congressmen, senators, governors and party officials given an individual vote in the process), she is also well ahead among the tally of elected delegates.
Hillary has 1,810 elected delegates and 547 super delegates. Bernie has 1,521 elected delegates and 46 super delegates. Even among the elected delegates, Clinton is 289 ahead.
If there were no super delegates, a candidate would need 2,026 delegates to win. That puts Clinton 216 short at the moment and Sanders 505 short. So, Bernie needs to win 70% of the delegates left to draw even in the number of elected delegates.
Almost all of the remaining delegates are up for election tomorrow (next week sees the final 20 delegates for Washington DC decided, a largely black city that will vote heavily for Clinton). If Clinton wins at least 31% of the delegates on offer tomorrow, she will have secured that ‘moral’ majority of elected delegates.
Clinton’s victory in votes is actually greater than those figures suggest: at the moment 3.05 million more voters have backed her (13.297m to 10.248m). Sanders has secured 46% of the elected delegates with less than 43% of the vote.
But isn’t Sanders more likely to beat Trump?
That is a debatable point. Current polls would certainly suggest that: on the Real Clear Politics averages, Clinton is running 2% ahead of Trump whilst Sanders is running 10% ahead.
But this is a simplistic judgement. Given that he is unlikely to win, Bernie has had far less scrutiny by the press and the Republicans. In contrast, Clinton has had years of having everything they have thrown at her.
That makes it even more important that Sanders gets out of the way after tomorrow: Clinton needs to be able to establish her narrative against Trump. Republicans that hated The Donald a month ago are now rallying behind him. Clinton needs the same to pull ahead.
Remeber, what started as an investigation about whether she was responsible for the death of a diplomat in Benghazi has ended up in finger-wagging about which email account she used, just as accusations of fraud and murder levelled at her husband in the 1990s ended up in revelations about a blow job.
Unless Bernie is a saint, if he had won the nomination you can bet your house that there would have been a Republican jamboree of dirt digging and muck throwing.
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But it is also important to see where Clinton is ahead.
In some ways, this year’s primaries have been a re-run of 2008’s with Sanders replacing Obama. Both won the young vote, both tended to win caucuses rather than primary elections, both won similar states in the north of the country.
But there have been two crucial differences. Most significantly this time, the black vote went to Clinton. In the other direction, Sanders laissez faire approach to gun control won the not insignificant gun-owning vote. Over all, the outcome has been a far stronger performance by Sanders than most commentators expected, but Clinton has ultimately won through given solid victories through most of the South and Mid Atlantic states.
In 2008 and 2012, there were three critical swing states won by Obama: Florida, Ohio and Virginia. Clinton has won all three of those primaries. Looking at what are probably the most winnable states that Romney won last time around – North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Arizona. She won all of those primaries too.
All that suggests that it is Clinton that is best placed to win the crucial swing states in November.
Here at All That’s Left, we love Bernie. His campaign has brought an excitement and debate to the Democratic primaries that was much needed and he has made the case for the left in a way that has not happened since the current primary system developed in the 1970s.
But he cannot mathematically win. He needs to pull behind Clinton after tomorrow to help ensure her victory.
Whatever his concerns about party procedures, he needs to think about whether protesting about them are worth the damage protests could do to the party’s prospects in November.