Well, unfortunately for Bernie Sanders supporters, it looks like it’s time to sober up, roll up the hemp blanket, and turn off the Phish, because the Bernie Bus broke down on the road to political revolution.
After Hillary’s 16-point win in New York, the only people left “feeling the Bern” are his devoted supporters, who must now come to terms with the fact that the populist vision they built their movement around is impossible to realize in America’s current political landscape.
Supporters will claim that, considering the overwhelming challenges Sanders faced—campaigning against the behemoth of Hillary’s political machine and a hostile Democratic Party—he actually performed beyond the expectations of pundits. Although Sanders outperformed expectations, he never really had much of a chance to begin with. His campaign failed to resonate with the American people because his platform of “free stuff” amazingly could not overcome the country’s instinctual distrust of socialism.
Still, it’s somewhat surprising that Sanders could not outperform a candidate whose name is synonymous with scandal. Although Bernie highlighted some of Hillary’s shortcomings, and those of the Democratic Party in general, he failed to initiate any meaningful changes.
Sure, Bernie’s attacks on Clinton damaged her in the polls and forced her to pivot further to the left in order to guarantee her victory over the Vermont senator, but now the only obstacle in front of Hillary is the general election. Over the next six months, Hillary’s targets will likely be either Ted Cruz, a principled politician who leans far to the right of most Americans, or Donald Trump, an unmoored populist spawn of his own ego. Either way, Hillary’s attention turns now towards independents.
No longer needing to court the interests of the far left, Hillary will shift back towards the center. She will cast herself as a Democratic unifier, once again carting out Bill, who recently angered the left by telling the truth about his crime bill to Black Lives Matter protesters. Bill will use the legacy of his centrist presidency to solidify Hillary’s support from moderate Democrats and mute the leftward shift of her campaign. The Clintons will, of course, continue their practice of giving paid speeches to Wall Street companies, and, come November, nobody will remember that such an issue ever existed.
To his credit, Sanders pushed the party platform farther left than the establishment intended. On the issue of minimum wage, for example, the party doctrine shifted from a reasonable rate of $12 per hour to a more radical $15 per hour.
But after the Democratic National Convention, the threat of Sanders’ campaign will fade, and so will the leftward pull of his socialist platform. Although Hillary’s previous support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, fracking, and the Keystone Pipeline is probably unsalvageable, given her now vehement opposition to all those things, she will still be able to realign herself in the center of the party. She can easily disregard Sanders’ socialist fantasies as foolish and untenable.
Even Paul Krugman, a droning voice of the left, criticized Sanders for his “lack of political realism,” and received in turn the ire of the far left. The Huffington Post called on Krugman to apologize for “smearing” the Sanders campaign with his concerns about such trivial matters as basic economics.
While publications like Salon recognize Krugman as an established “voice of reason,” they resolutely dismissed their champion of left-wing economics by explaining away his conclusions as an expression of “Bernie derangement syndrome.”
The populism gripping the Democratic Party will settle down once Bernie disappears from the political scene. Unfortunately for Hillary, the media’s love of Bernie, or rather their love of the underdog narrative, means that Bernie’s influence on the party will not truly fade until the Democratic convention in July. After her resounding victory in New York, however, Hillary is no longer as beholden to the party’s radical wing as before.
Hillary need not fear the #NeverHillary movement of stubborn Bernie followers who have pledged not to support Hillary even if she wins the nomination. That movement isn’t large enough to threaten Hillary’s White House bid. Aside from a few determined holdouts, in the face of a potential Trump or Cruz presidency, former Bernie supporters will mostly fall in line behind Hillary. As soon as Bernie officially admits defeat, the voices of the obstinate Bernie supporters will fade along with the democratic socialist’s campaign.
Although Bernie described his New Hampshire victory over Clinton as the beginning of a “political revolution,” that revolution failed to impart any significant changes to the Democratic Party, and concluded with Bernie’s defeat in New York. While Sanders made great strides in areas receptive to his kooky brand of populist socialism, he failed to displace Hillary in any meaningful way.
The Democratic frontrunner still faces a greater threat from the FBI’s investigation of her email server than she ever did from Bernie Sanders.