“You can’t win without us! So you’d better think long and hard about how you treat us. Our loyalty is to the country and not to a party that manipulated the nomination process in order to get their “presumptive nominee” or a political party that doesn’t care about truthfulness and fair play. The upcoming November election is bigger than any political party is. This is about voting for the person who can best lead this country. We have options galore and we will exercise them, if need be.”
Quick quiz: which prominent Bernie Sanders supporters posted this?
Answer? None of them. The entire opening paragraph is from a Hillary Clinton supporter’s Web site in 2008.
PUMA was begun by angry Hillary Clinton supporters who felt like Obama had treated her badly during the primary, that he’s not qualified to be president, and that Democratic leadership had cheated them out of the party’s rightful nominee.
What a difference 8 years makes.
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Your social media feeds are probably choked with some versions of it. The principal targets seem to be those “irresponsible Sanders supporters” who vow to hand the country over to Donald Trump on a silver platter if their boy doesn’t get the nomination. Those posting the memes act like this is something unique to this election. LOL!
It’s never all sweetness and light on the primary campaign trail. The same thing that people worry about now was also a concern in 2008.
Over the weekend, Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe accused Hillary Clinton of having a “character gap.” Clinton spokesman Phil Singer returned fire, saying today that Obama’s campaign is perpetrating an “insidious pattern of personal attacks.”
Any Democrat listening the harsh language emanating from the campaigns would be forgiven for thinking it might be tough to unify the party this fall.
What I’m saying is don’t get freaked out when you read similar stories about this race. The media likes the conflict; it boosts ratings – and the pie fights in the comments section of articles increase ad revenue.
A primary fight isn’t a death knell for victory in the general election. Unless – and this is a big UNLESS – it transfers over into the convention. Then it can be deadly if one side feels like it’s being cheated or disrespected. The bad feelings just may not go away in time for the November vote.
- 1976: Ronald Reagan vs Gerald Ford: “Going into the convention, Ford had won more primary delegates than Reagan, as well as plurality in popular vote. However, Ford did not have enough to secure the nomination, and as the convention opened both candidates were seen as having a chance to win.” The Reganites tried to changed the convention rules to make it more likely for Reagan to win the balloting, but failed. The final vote was way close: 1187 votes to 1070 votes. And some of the Reagan coalition sat out the election, allowing Carter to squeak through with just 2 percentage points. This article is a great account of the election.
- 1980: Jimmy Carter vs Edward Kennedy. Senator Kennedy mounted a strong primary challenge to Carter and might well have beaten him had Carter not gotten a huge popularity boost from the Iran hostage crisis. The fighting at the convention was brutal. “The wrangling on the convention floor that year helped burnish Ickes’ reputation as a “win-at-all-costs” operative. His candidate trailed President Carter by 700 delegates heading into the convention, but Ickes worked every angle he could to create roadblocks for Carter on the convention floor.” Carter eventually got the nomination, but Senator Kennedy wasn’t a good loser:
“Kennedy did finally arrive at Madison Square Garden. He gave Carter a perfunctory handshake and then seemed to turn his back on the President, skirting around the edges of the podium as party officials tried to arrange a victory photograph. Jules Witcover and Jack Germond, in Blue Smoke and Mirrors, quote a Carter intimate as saying the President “looked like a puppy dog” trotting after Kennedy. They also quote party chairman, Robert Strauss, after a reporter told him the scene “looked like hell,” as saying “it looked worse than hell.”
Carter himself never recovered.”
Compare Kennedy’s behavior to Hillary Clinton’s in 2008. I was on the floor of the convention when then-Senator Clinton arrived and called on the convention to nominate then-Senator Barack Obama by acclamation. Earlier in the day, I had been at a meeting next door to the large room where she gathered her pledged delegates and told them she was withdrawing and wanted them to voter for Obama. We were rather alarmed by the yelling and shouting next door and it wasn’t until later that I realized what had been going on.
In 2012, the Republicans were having quite the knock-down primary fight, and I wondered then if the result would be a reprise of 1976:
As any veteran of a hard-fought primary battle can attest, a triumphant victory lap on the part of the winner’s supporters doesn’t stitch the wounds – it rubs salt in them. And the losers don’t soon forget their treatment at the hands of their fellow party members.
Newt Gingrich is vowing to continue the fight past Florida, even if he loses next Tuesday to Romney. And his allies are people who don’t mind burning down the tent in order to “save it.”
Gingrich’s comparison of himself to Reagan should send a chill down Romney’s back – much like his dog probably felt on the top of the car. And Romney, it appears, just can’t avoid acting like a jerk.
A primary battle doesn’t have to spell doom in the general election. A lot hinges on how the victors treat the other candidate’s team.
In 2008, the Clinton team felt that the party had stacked the deck against them in favor of Obama. Since I didn’t support either one initially, I could watch as a disinterested observer. I didn’t see a lot of DNC effort to quash Clinton in favor of Obama; I did see a media totally in love with Obama and hostile to Clinton. He benefited from that favorable coverage in the general election as well.
Clinton’s folks were angry and upset, but she stepped up when it counted and was a gracious loser.
In 2016, the Sanders team believes that the DNC has stacked the deck in favor of Clinton. Quite the reversal for her! The Sanders folks actually have a better case. Bernie is bringing a whole new subset of the electorate that hasn’t been engaged before. They’re the missing piece of the Democratic coalition, and it’s just damn stupid for the establishment Democrats to write them off by treating them badly.
Sure, some of them loudly declare that they’re Bernie Democrats but that’s the extent of their involvement in the party. They promise to sit out the general if he isn’t the nominee and bitch that the party is actively working against him.
Truthfully, they have a good case. The lack of Democratic debates and the inconvenient scheduling may not be a deliberate attempt to keep Sanders out of the limelight, but it’s certainly political malpractice. Record numbers of people are tuning in to watch the Republican freak shows/debates, but they can only watch the Democrats on the last Saturday night before Christmas. Seriously?
The media is so transfixed by the Donald Trump’s neo-fascist tour that they ignore the candidate who has possibly drawn more people to his rallies than all the other candidates combined.
How will it all play out once the voting starts? I don’t know the outcome, but I do know what comes in between: hard-fought primaries and caucuses, tough debate and intemperate social media exchanges, and hard feelings at the end – that may or may not subside next fall.
My totally unasked-for advice:
- Bernie supporters (of whom I am one!): never say never. You have no idea what the GOP is capable of. Don’t draw a line now (before anyone has voted) that you won’t cross later. The deck is stacked against Bernie – but it’s stacked against any outside candidate. Bernie and his coalition is working wonders; don’t get distracted.
- Hillary supporters: lay off. You’re never going to bully someone into supporting your candidate. The Bernie people feel intense personal loyalty to their candidate and his ideas. A lot of them are new to the political process and they’ve brought an unprecedented wave of energy and grassroots organizing. They give the 2004 Howard Dean folks a huge run for their money. Quit treating them like they’re stupid or naive and pissing them off.Remember that many of you had the same feelings in 2008.
How it all plays out during and after the convention is up to the candidates, the party establishment, and their supporters. Just don’t think any of this is new. It’s just how the game is played.