In 2000, George W. Bush was considered a joke candidate with no real shot at the White House. He lacked the seriousness, intelligence, and demeanor to become President of the United States. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile, the shoo-in, Vice President Al Gore, a pro-corporate candiate who admittedly failed to inspire anyone emotionally while simultaneously alienating the progressive base, was casually considered to be the inevitable heir to the throne. This match-up lead to America’s long national nightmare known as The Bush Years.
In 2016, the similarities are eerie, except that Hillary Clinton is a far more polarizing figure in American politics than Al Gore ever was. Clinton may be able to win the closed-primary nomination process (as she did in New York, where only Democrats could vote, if at all) after decades building a political machine, but she remains highly alienating to the progressive base and to independents.
Sure, the Republicans may seem like they are in disarray now, but no single person alive is capable of uniting their party like Hillary.
Meanwhile, the most energized part of the Democratic base, i.e. the one that Bernie built, may indeed hold their noses and reluctantly cast votes for Hillary simply to stump Trump, but virtually none of them will work and organize for her, so there will be none of the crucial multiplier effects beyond their individual votes. In short, a Hillary candidacy, instead of Bernie’s, means a net loss of energy on the Democratic side.
So the media discourse on whether Sanders supporters will support Hillary or not is actually missing the crucial point.
“Support” can’t be measured just in indidividual votes, but in multiplier effects—the additional votes generated by individuals with high levels of enthusiasm and commitment. For example, as an individual I can cast only a single vote for a candidate, but I can have far greater impact by getting 10 other people to vote for that candidate, if I am motivated and passionate enough.
Sanders’ skyrocketing trajectory from out of nowhere has demonstrated that he has huge multiplier effects. Even if some of those Sanders supporters (reluctantly) vote for Clinton, little of that multiplier power will be transferred to Hillary. There simply is no army that is going to work to get her elected. Strategically, that constitutes a massive loss to the party overall.
Recent history has shown us how dangerous it is to assume that an uninspiring candidate with huge negatives among the general electorate is going to win just because they have a party machine propping them up.
Democrats should learn from their own history. In the past half-century, there have been only three times that the Democratic “next-in-line” secured the nomination, and in each case the party failed to win the White House: Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Walter Mondale in 1984, and Al Gore in 2000.
Establishment Democrats think that Trump is a god-given gift to them. They don’t realize that Hillary might just be the Republicans’ saving grace.