While that development-that-shall-not-be-discussed becomes Republican reality, it’s easy to forget that Democrats are busy stumbling toward their own loathsome nominee. The party faithful aren’t quite as fractured between Hillary and #NeverHillary factions as Republicans are between The Donald and the #NeverTrump, but Clinton still has work to do in securing the general-election loyalty of some Bernie Sanders’ supporters. And that has implications for the party and the election.
As background, this piece in The Atlantic is instructive. Here’s an excerpt:
“At least some supporters of the Vermont senator insist they won’t vote for Clinton, no matter what. Many view the former secretary of state with her deep ties to the Democratic establishment as the polar opposite of Sanders and his rallying cry of political revolution. Throwing their weight behind her White House bid would feel like a betrayal of everything they believe.
“These voters express unwavering dedication to Sanders on social media, deploying hashtags like NeverClinton and NeverHillary, and circulating petitions like http://www.wontvotehillary.com, which asks visitors to promise ‘under no circumstances will I vote for Hillary Clinton.’ It’s garnered more than 56,500 signatures so far. Many feel alienated by the Democratic Party. They may want unity, but not if it means a stamp of approval for a political status quo they believe is fundamentally flawed and needs to be fixed.
“‘Just pack up your revolution and go home? Really? That’s not going to happen,’ said Tara Margolin, a 50-year-old Sanders supporter and self-described Democrat who lives in Los Angeles. She dismissed the idea that Sanders voters might coalesce behind Clinton. ‘She would cement in place everything we are fighting against. I could never in good conscience vote for Hillary Clinton.'”
Sound familiar? It should. The divisiveness on the Republican side may be stronger and perhaps more durable, but there’s a good bit of overlap between Trump’s and Sanders’ critiques of the political system. It isn’t surprising at all that the same anti-establishment fervor that catapulted Trump to a stunning win isn’t simply dissipating on the Democratic side.
That said, it’s worth noting how the results are different, and not just because Sanders seems highly unlikely to end up with the nomination. For one, Sanders’ brand of populism is making the Democratic Party more ideological, not less. More government intervention in markets; more curtailing of political speech; government consuming a far larger share of economic output — these and more of Sanders’ positions represent a purer version of the leftism that is increasingly attracting younger and more disaffected members of the Democratic Party.
Because Clinton is taking longer to sew up her own nomination — and may, as she indicated on Sunday, give Sanders more say over the party’s platform in order to win over his supporters — that more ideological bent will show up in the general election. The specifics will matter, but just about any scenario in which Clinton loses to Trump has to involve her tacking too far to the left well into the fall, trying to placate the Sanders wing of the party.
A by-product of this leftward tilt could be the impression Clinton’s flexibility lies entirely within the Democratic side of the aisle, whereas Trump’s would allow him to wheel and deal with anyone. It’s hard to imagine now, but if Clinton is seen as negotiating only between the left and further-left parts of the spectrum, Trump could actually become more attractive to independent voters — particularly those who don’t think the pendulum needs to swing even more toward the left after eight years of President Obama. It’s almost incredible to think Trump could come to be viewed as more centrist than Clinton, but that just might happen if the Sanders bloc overplays its hand.
Now, do I think all this represents a likely outcome for 2016? Not really. But we are now in the middle of a political shake-up that will have consequences not just for this election or even the next two to four years, but potentially for much longer than that. Where the Democratic Party gets pulled will shape those consequences just as much as where the GOP gets pushed. And we’re still watching that play out.