This is how establishment politics works: As the Bernie-lites went down to a rather decisive electoral defeat in independent-voter rich New Hampshire last night, they actually likely won more delegates than the Bernie-ites. So, it’s not time to freak out just yet, Hillary fans.
As Hillary Clinton learned all too well in 2008, it is the delegate count at the end that matters. Bernie racked up a lot of New Hampshire votes, but because of the super-delegate safeguard built into the Democratic primary process, he didn’t last night, and hasn’t so far, racked up a lot of delegates. Superdelegates, as we have come to know, are mostly current or former party pooh-bahs who don’t have to follow the voters’ wishes. The Democratic Party’s decision to create superdelegates was the result of the disastrous nomination of George McGovern in 1972, who was nominated via an open voting process at the convention and who was subsequently destroyed by Richard Nixon.
Many of the superdelegates have already committed to Mrs. Clinton. Here is the Associated Press’s count as of today:
People forget that in that 2008 Democratic primary race, Hillary Clinton actually got 48% of the total vote and Obama got 47%. But Obama won the delegate count 2,285 to 1,973. In that race, the Clinton campaign was out-foxed by the Obama team, the latter virtually ceding to Clinton the big prizes that she was sure to win and focusing elsewhere, as an excellent Washington Post article from June of 2008 (“Strategy Was Based On Winning Delegates, Not Battlegrounds”) explains:
“It’s the story that hasn’t been written yet, how Obama did everything right, targeting caucuses, targeting small states, avoiding the showdowns in the big states where he could,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, who watched the strategy play out in microcosm in his own state, “and how in the end Clinton did so much so wrong.”
What Clinton did wrong in 2008 will not be repeated this time. She is competing for every vote in every state. Additionally, she has the backing of the party faithful, including, again, those faithful superdelegates. And as of right now, she can count on strong support in the African-American community, and relatively strong support among Hispanics.
But she will eventually have to start winning to validate her commanding lead in delegates and to assure nervous voters that she can actually overcome the barrage of attacks, including attacks on her honesty, that she has experienced for a generation now.
It is those assaults on her honesty and trustworthiness that I want to focus on, as I end this call for Clinton supporters not to panic. For as long as the Clintons have been national figures (and even before that), Republicans have essentially slandered them both with every kind of nasty deed imaginable—including the infamous “Clinton Body Bags” and the charge that former Clinton lawyer Vince Foster was murdered to cover up, among other things, an affair with Hillary. Now, to be sure, Bill gave us all reasons to question his integrity, especially as it related to his sexual escapades. And Hillary hasn’t exactly been a Mother Teresa in defense of her husband’s political career or her own.
But a lot of what the public perceives about the Clintons is tied to how they have enriched themselves since leaving politics, whether personally or via their foundation. People generally and rightly believe that politicians shouldn’t cash in on their public service, and it makes even the most ardent Hillary Clinton supporters uncomfortable when they consider all the money she has made from giving speeches to powerful bankers and others. But making money, in the way the Clintons have made it, isn’t illegal. Maybe it should be. Or maybe politicians should have to at least enter a plea of post-presidency poverty before people vote for them for that high office.
Until then, though, what Bernie Sanders and his campaign are actually doing to Hillary Clinton, who is still the likely Democratic nominee, is feeding into—and piggybacking on—the narrative that Republicans have used against her and Bill for many years now. Bernie and some of his surrogates clearly want voters to draw the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is bought and paid for by big donors, that she is fundamentally dishonest when she vehemently denies turning tricks for bankster pimps, and that she is not to be trusted to fight for the interests of ordinary folks.
Just look at the exit polls for New Hampshire: a whopping 50% of voters in the Democratic primary believed “only Sanders” was “honest and trustworthy,” at least a partial testament to his constant insinuations about her ties to donors. And if he continues this not-so-subtle attack, he will not only solidify the Republican-crafted image of Hillary Clinton as essentially a crooked, money-grabbing liar, he will, like the infamous Ralph Nader candidacy that helped elect George W. Bush president in 2000, make it easier for a right-wing zealot to win in November and destroy the Obama legacy.