A guy walked into the office the other day. He is the AFL-CIO's local representative. I asked him what he thought about the recent Bernie Sanders surge in Iowa. He replied that his mother loves Hillary. I asked him if he saw the story about Sanders, a non-Democrat, appearing before the Democratic National Committee to the sound of cheers. He said Hillary has a lot of support among African-Americans.
So it goes. The establishment is still hitched to Hillary as she continues to rapidly bleed out. For a distillation of the establishment point of view, which mirrors the guy from the AFL, go over to FiveThirtyEight and read Harry Enten's "We Got Berned." Sanders' run up the polls can no longer be denied. But Clintonites hang their hat on the loyalty of blacks (and super-delegates). As Enten proffers:
So why do I still think Sanders is a factional candidate? He hasn’t made any inroads with non-white voters — in particular black voters, a crucial wing of the Democratic coalition and whose support was a big part of President Obama’s toppling of Clinton in the 2008 primary. Not only are African-Americans the majority of Democratic voters in the South Carolina primary (a crucial early contest), they make up somewhere between 19 percent and 24 percent of Democrats nationwide. In the past two YouGov polls, Sanders has averaged just 5 percent with black voters. Ipsos’s weekly tracking poll has him at an average of only 7 percent over the past two weeks. Fox News (the only live-interview pollster to publish results among non-white voters in July and August) had Clinton leading Sanders 62-10 among non-white Democrats in mid-July and 65-14 in mid-August. Clinton’s edge with non-whites held even as Sanders cut her overall lead from 40 percentage points to 19.
There are other indications that Sanders is unlikely to win the nomination. He hasn’t won a single endorsement from a governor, senator or member of the U.S. House of Representatives (unlike Obama at this point in the 2008 campaign). Sanders is also well behind in the money race (again, unlike Obama). These indicators haven’t changed over the past month.
But even if you put aside those metrics, Sanders is running into the problem that other insurgent Democrats have in past election cycles. You can win Iowa relying mostly on white liberals. You can win New Hampshire. But as Gary Hart and Bill Bradley learned, you can’t win a Democratic nomination without substantial support from African-Americans.Nonetheless the narrative is beginning to shift. No longer is Hillary seen as an unstoppable political juggernaut. Now she is perceived as a juggernaut in reverse, forever on the defensive, hemorrhaging constantly. An example of this is David Brooks' column this morning, "Hillary Clinton, the Great Defender":
Hillary Clinton has obviously had a bad summer. She’s losing in New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders, even among women. She’s barely leading him in Iowa. In a Quinnipiac poll of potential general election matchups, she’s beating Donald Trump by only four points, 45 to 41, and she’s beating Marco Rubio by only one point.
The conventional Democratic muck-a-muck view is that she horribly mishandled the private email server issue. That’s part of it, but the polling shows a much more pervasive personal set of weaknesses. In an AP/GfK poll, only 40 percent of Americans think she is compassionate. Only 30 percent say she is honest. In a variety of polls, many voters say she just doesn’t get people like them, usually the key Democratic strength.
Not all of these troubles are her fault. It’s tough to run as a member of the establishment in this time of popular disgust with establishments (ask Jeb Bush). But Clinton’s campaign nonetheless has a distinct aura. Maybe next to Michael Dukakis’s, it is the least romantic, poetic and uplifting Democratic campaign in decades.
We live in anxious times. You can respond to those times with a more radical political program, as Bernie Sanders is doing. You can answer with an anti-establishment burn-down-the-house campaign, as Donald Trump is doing. Or you can create a resurrection story, a creative narrative that builds a working majority on new grounds.
When Clinton was secretary of state it wasn’t clear whether she could go on offense and define a creative initiative in an open field. She hasn’t done that yet in this campaign, either. She hasn’t given voters a sense of an epic quest, an exodus to some promised land.
She’s still the prohibitive favorite to get the nomination, but we have yet to see if she can play offense. Campaigns do have to have some creative romance to them, an uplifting mood if not a new agenda. So far Clinton has not creatively defined a new field in front of the country. Instead, she’s left a void others are filling.If Brooks, the troubadour of the mythical "soccer mom," a champion of lily-white country club exurban America, is beginning to hedge his Hillary bets, watch out. The levee is about to break.
Having just finished The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class, the book made out of Sanders' filibuster speech that he delivered at the end of 2010, I'm confident that the more people hear his rap -- the rich are sucking up all the wealth in the country; we need to put people to work rebuilding our dilapidated infrastructure -- the more his support will grow. As it is now, Sanders' campaign is having a hard time adding staff to keep up with his ballooning popularity.
While Sanders is garnering press for his rise in the polls and his swelling campaign organization, Hillary is in the news for her emails. The State Department released a tranche of Hillary emails yesterday with more to follow. More salacious, gossipy tidbits to create an aura of negativity, of squalor.
The Democratic primary might be nearing its tipping point. Even if Sanders' path to the nomination appears blocked because of an absence of support from African-Americans; the more attention he grabs and excitement he generates, the less likely it is Hillary can win a general election.