Wednesday, April 20, 2016

After New York

New York has voted. And, for a change, it actually mattered! One of the many ironies of our post-1968 primary-convention system is that, for all the nonsense about the newer system being so much more "democratic," it has regularly resulted in nominees being selected before big states like New York and California even get to vote. In 1972, California's Democratic primary (which was still "winner take all" then) effectively settled that race in George McGovern's favor. I can't remember California - the biggest state - or New York mattering that much since, now that Iowa, New Hampshire, some southern states and the imprimatur of media commentary have usually decided the nomination race long before those big states get to vote.

But it was different this year. Trump's overwhelming victory in his home state may not absolutely guarantee him the Republican nomination, but it certainly makes the prospect much more likely. Likewise Hilary Clinton's win in her adopted home state makes Bernie Sanders' continued campaign seem not only frivolous but increasingly a distraction from the real contest between Clinton and Trump - and all that that critical contest signifies for the present and future of our country.

As a message candidate, Sanders has made a significant contribution to the race, helping to frame the issues more starkly than they might otherwise have been. But that goal has largely been accomplished, probably well beyond anyone's initial expectations (Sanders' included). Beyond that, Sanders' appeal is largely outside the heart of the party. Sanders, who has never really been a Democrat, seems to succeed best in open primaries and high-intensity caucuses - not in closed party primaries like the one in New York, that privilege the votes of committed, registered Democrats. It remains to be seen whether and when Sanders, the message candidate, will himself get the message - in this case the Democratic Party's voters' message that actual Democrats want to win in November. (The curious argument that caucuses are somehow more "democratic" than party primaries is patently frivolous, as is Sanders' bizarre complaint that Clinton's lead is due to her victory in "conservative" southern states. What her victories in the south reflect is rather her greater appeal among non-white voters, who are the majority in southern "Democratic primaries and an increasingly crucial component of the Democratic "base.")

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