Last night was not a great night for Bernie Sanders. Despite a historic upset in Michigan last week that led many pundits to predict victories for him in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, Sanders did not win any of those states. Hillary Clinton not only won those states but also took Florida and North Carolina by large margins.
Even before the elections yesterday, Sanders had been lagging behind. In terms of delegates, he had been behind by about 200, and now trails by over 300. Clinton has also won eight more states than Sanders, 18 – 10.
The contests in the three Midwestern states were unexpectedly close, but not close enough to preserve much of a chance of a major comeback for Bernie. Though Clinton’s delegate lead is not technically insurmountable, Sanders would have to win almost every upcoming state by a margin of 15 points or more in order to pull off a victory at this point. If Bernie’s hopes of winning aren’t extinguished yet, they’re close.
That is not to say that this campaign has been for nothing. Bernie Sanders is the most progressive candidate to have a serious chance at the Democratic nomination in decades. He has won — in some case by huge margins — in the face of extreme adversity. He ran a campaign on small donations, without the backing of a Super PAC, and invigorated more first-time voters than any other candidate. He has fought off attack after attack not just from Republicans but also from his own party establishment.
He also persevered despite a stunning media blackout. According to Media Matters for America, from January 1, 2015 through the end of November, Bernie Sanders was only awarded 10 minutes of coverage on network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS or NBC, compared to 234 minutes for Trump. His victories were regularly shunted from the front pages of national newspapers, and his speeches after elections were often not aired. Even last night, few networks bothered to show his speech.
But Bernie’s campaign has accomplished something unprecedented. He has managed to pull a mainstream, borderline-centrist Democrat partially into the progressive wing of the party, at least rhetorically. Hillary Clinton has had veer left on almost every issue in the campaign, from trade to education reform to racial justice.
As Secretary of State, Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard in trade agreements.” After declaring her candidacy, she wavered on that point. As Sanders continually reiterated his longstanding opposition to the agreement, she finally caved and came out against it as well. In 2010, she had noted that she was “inclined” to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil pipeline that would have had disastrous effects for environment. Throughout the early months of the race, however, Bernie repeatedly made a point of the negative environmental impacts of the pipeline. At last, in September, she announced her opposition to the pipeline as well.
Throughout her political career, Hillary supported numerous measures leading to increased rates of mass incarceration. In support of the 1994 crime bill, she infamously referred to young people of color “super-predators.” As recently as 2008, she was still in support of mandatory minimum sentences, which increase the amount of time people found guilty of crimes spend incarcerated. Bernie’s decades-long fight for civil rights and longstanding opposition to “tough-on-crime” approaches (along with the contributions of the Black Lives Matter movement) helped shift Hillary on this issue, too.
As the results came in last night, one CNN correspondent noted that Bernie’s campaign could not continue with serious hopes of winning. He will become a “message candidate” if he presses on, seeking only to send a message to the establishment as opposed to winning the nomination and implementing serious policies.
That is still a worthy goal. Although Hillary has drifted further to the left since her announcement in April, there is still much room for her to change — and an open question of whether she will stick to those commitments. The more Bernie presses her on progressive issues, the more likely she is to maintain her stances into the general election and even the presidency.
Bernie Sanders has waged a campaign that shocked everyone, from the dismissive establishment to the self-defeating Left. That he came so close to victory only shows the power of grassroots organization, and should give us hope for more progressive candidates in future elections. It’s unlikely that he’ll pull off the nomination now, but there is still work to be done in shaping the Democratic candidate for November.
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