Bernie Sanders’s paranoid style

Bernie Sanders’s campaign has been sounding the alarm. The “establishment,” worried sick about the Vermont socialist’s early successes, is conspiring to thwart his movement of “working people” by denying him the nomination.

President Trump has echoed this theme. Indeed, his campaign claims, absurdly, that Sanders is the victim of a coup.

It’s true that establishment Democrats are worried about Sanders being the Democratic nominee. It’s also true that socialists are worried that Sanders won’t win the nomination. What’s the problem? All factions and ideologies have the right to worry about the other faction or ideology gaining the upper hand.

Conspiracies are problematic, but where is the conspiracy to deny Sanders the nomination? Candidates dropping out and supporting Joe Biden isn’t a conspiracy. In all sharply contested nominating processes, candidates drop out when it becomes clear they can’t win. Usually, they then endorse the rival with whom they have the most affinity and/or the ones they think might offer them a job.

Sanders has no God-given right to run against a fractured field of traditional left-liberals. He’s lucky he ran against one for as long as he did.

Underlying Sanders’s grievance is the claim that, but for establishment shenanigans, he would surely pile up the delegates he needs to be nominated on the first ballot. But the evidence on this is mixed.

There have been two primaries so far. Sanders won the first narrowly and was crushed in the second.

Caucuses tell us less than primaries about voter preferences because participation is less widespread. Of the two caucuses held so far, Sanders tied for the lead in the first and won the second easily.

In national preference polls, Biden led from the beginning of the campaign until recently. Sanders overtook him last month, but Biden has come back and appears to be ahead once again.

Sanders has rarely exceeded 30 percent support nationally, and if one adds the support of the two other main far leftists in the race — Elizabeth Warren and Tom Steyer — that number has never (as far as I can tell) exceeded 50 percent.

In short, if Sanders doesn’t romp to the nomination, it won’t be because of some conspiracy. It will because not enough Democrats want to nominate a socialist, especially an old male socialist who yells a lot.

Now, a note of Sanders’s claim that his movement is, at root, a crusade of “working people.” As far as I can tell, Sanders’s movement is actually a coalition of the young and the bitter. What is the labor force participation rate among the 20-somethings who give Sanders such a boost? Lower than that of the rest of Democratic voters, I suspect.

And what is Sanders saying about the 50 percent or so of Democrats who don’t want him to be president? Might not there be workers among them?

For that matter, what is Sanders saying about African-American Democrats? In South Carolina, they rejected Sanders, voting overwhelmingly for Biden. Is Sanders writing these people out of the working class? Is he accusing them of “false consciousness,” the traditional Marxist explanation for the failure of the masses to embrace socialism? Is he being racist?

Finally a word about super-delegates. They will comprise about 16 percent of the Democratic delegates this year. However, they will not vote on the first ballot unless the outcome is already clear. Thus, if Sanders has 50 percent-plus-1 support in the first go-round, the “establishment” cannot use super-delegates to deprive him of the nomination.

In any event, there is nothing conspiratorial about having super-delegates. This is the rule. Everyone knows about it.

It’s also a reasonable rule. If a convention is deadlocked, why shouldn’t those with the biggest stake in the party, and those who must worry most about the down-ballot implications of the party’s standard bearer, have an extra bit of say?

I don’t know whether Sanders believes he’s the victim of a conspiracy or whether this is simply a case of whining for political advantage. Either way, as I noted above, Sanders’s complaint is being echoed by Team Trump. I’ll discuss this in another post.

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