Excuse me, but there is still only one person running for president on the Democratic side who the American people can even imagine as president. It is not, God bless him, Bernie Sanders. I say “God bless him” because I think he believes deeply and passionately in what he’s saying. I think he even believes that saying it, as a candidate or president, is enough. On that I disagree. Free college? Close down Wall Street? Sorry: There aren’t that many billionaires, and pension funds are among the biggest players on Wall Street, but don’t get me started. If I were in my 20s today I’d probably be in Nevada for Bernie. Passion beats practicality any day.
On the other hand, practical wins the marathon. One of the very few good things about being older than most of the people running campaigns now is you can always remember one like this, whatever “this” is. And I’d say this is 1984, with Clinton playing the establishment candidate and “inevitable” nominee, Walter Mondale, and Sanders playing the insurgent, Gary Hart (who might look like Sanders now, but back then was known for having what we used to call “a Gary Hart problem”). Hart finished a strong second in Iowa and then came roaring into New Hampshire and won. Where I worked, at the party headquarters, people really were ducking and covering. And then Mondale announced he was going to have a majority of the delegates by the first Wednesday in June, and after a three-month slog, he did.
Make no mistake. If it takes a slog to win this nomination, Clinton and her team will slog it out. They will not make the mistake they made last time of ignoring some of the out-of-the way contests where a big win gets you a bigger margin than a closer race with many more delegates at stake. In other words, don’t forget Wyoming.
But it’s not looking to be near as “good” as the primary race eight years ago, when it was Clinton vs. Barack Obama. And that’s troubling.
Part of the reason, surely, was that when you got down to the state and local letter, you had people who knew each other and liked each other and were, from the start, perfectly willing to support the winner of the contest. We had the first woman and the first black man to be serious candidates. It was historic. And while neither might be electable by a traditional calculus, both were so unique that the usual rules might not apply.
I don’t know a single Clinton supporter who thinks Bernie Sanders has any chance of being elected president, even against Donald Trump. A 72-year-old socialist from New York is beyond a hard sell in that crowd. And just as troubling is the way many Sanders supporters absolutely trash Clinton. It’s not what the Obama people were saying eight years ago. It’s not polite, and while the race certainly hasn’t taken the rancor of the Jimmy Carter vs. Ted Kennedy fight in 1980 (sadly, I remember it well), it is clear that if Clinton does win this in a slog, she and her team will have their work cut out in bringing the party together.
There are some campaigns that make the victor stronger for having won. Barack Obama established his right to head the ticket by vanquishing an opponent of great stature. I’m not sure that the result of this slog will have much grandeur. The only consolation for Democrats is that they could not look any sillier than Donald Trump did in the last GOP debate.