If Bernie wins California, he can win the Democratic primary

Written by | Opinion

Bernie Sanders Sacramento rally

Today is the California primary, and this is Bernie Sanders’ last stand. It’s the state on which his remaining hopes are resting, and it’s the state that has the chance to take him from “hopeful” to “winner.”

With 475 pledged delegates in play, California is the largest state in the Democratic primary, easily dwarfing the next closest, New York, by 228 delegates, and there are enough delegates for Bernie Sanders to completely eliminate Hillary Clinton’s pledged delegate lead. Secretary Clinton currently leads the Vermont Senator by 291 pledged delegates, and Sanders could theoretically win enough delegates in California to pull ahead, especially with the help of other states voting today.

The trouble is, he won’t. Bernie Sanders will not pass Hillary Clinton in pledged delegates, but he can still become the winner of the Democratic primary tonight. Sure, Clinton plans to declare victory now that she’s secured 2383 total delegates with the help of superdelegates, and she has every right to, but that doesn’t mean Bernie has lost, even if the AP is naming Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee for President.

And Bernie hasn’t lost. The Sanders campaign is still going, and the candidate himself has stated he plans to take his fight all the way to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this July, where superdelegates officially pledge themselves to one candidate or the other, at which point he could technically pry enough superdelegates away from Clinton to secure the nomination. Unfortunately for Sanders and his supporters, he probably won’t be able to do that.

Bernie Sanders will very likely not be the Democratic nominee for president, and this really makes sense when we stop to think about it. To be able to convince enough superdelegates not to continue backing Hillary Clinton would be a coup of epic proportions for the populist Senator, and it should surprise absolutely no one that Democratic superdelegates, who are quite literally a part of the Democratic establishment, overwhelmingly support Secretary Clinton, who herself is an establishment Democrat. One has to think even Bernie Sanders recognizes this, which he likely does, but by staying in the race he’s winning the war against Clinton and other New Democrats and their neoliberal moderatism.

But the fact that these superdelegates support the former First Lady/Senator from New York/Secretary of State isn’t inherently evil; they’re neoliberals too—just like her and her husband. They’re supporting the candidate they genuinely prefer, the one who holds similar political views and the one who will govern the way the establishment wants. They want Clinton, not Sanders, and it’s unlikely Bernie will be able to convince enough of them, a few hundreds worth, to switch sides between now and July 25, the start of the Democratic Convention.

This doesn’t make those superdelegates the spawn of Satan or undemocratic—though one could argue our entire political system is far less democratic than we’ve all been led to believe—it simply makes them politically moderate, and that’s why they’re backing a moderate candidate. And people are certainly free to be left-leaning moderates, and there are enough left-leaning moderates that the Democratic party is made up of many such folks, and Bernie supporters will just have to reconcile that fact with themselves after the primary contests are officially over and those superdelegates continue backing Clinton.

So, after saying Bernie can win the Democratic primary and then seemingly contradicting myself by saying he won’t be the nominee, we get to the real point of this article. Bernie Sanders, despite what he’s saying publically, likely isn’t staying in the race to be president because he thinks he can win. At this point in time, Sanders is still in the race probably only to shape the Democratic Party’s platform for the next four years, and his supporters should be hella glad he is. And they should hella support him today in California, New Jersey, North Dakota, Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota, so much so that he wins all of those states by double digits! Okay, that’s not likely to happen, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from voting for Bernie.

The better Sanders does today and the more he wins California by, if he can win it, the more say he’ll get at the convention and the better off these “BernieBro” unicorns will be down the road, who Hillary Clinton so desperately wants to like her. It will also signal a pretty big leftward shift away from neoliberalism, which has rapidly become a derogatory term hurled at a mainstream Democratic ideology that looks more like Nixon Republicanism than it does New Deal democracy.

If Bernie Sanders supporters are smart, which the majority of them are, they will recognize this and then go on to support Sanders and his message up to and past July 25, because if they can’t get the nominee they want, the next best thing is letting the Democrats know that neoliberalism is going to die after a Clinton presidency, and hopefully forcing her further and further away from the political center as much as possible prior to being sworn in.

If everything plays out as expected, with Hillary Clinton becoming the Democratic nominee for president, the decision for Sanders supporters to either vote or not vote for Clinton is up to them, and this article will in no way try to convince them to do one or the other—though I do feel the #BernieOrBust movement is justified and actually a good thing. But, if Sandernistas want to really effect political change, if they really want a political revolution, they’ll use Bernie’s success through California for all it’s worth, and they will continue holding their votes hostage against Clinton and her party.

Winning California, especially while the majority of media outlets are already declaring Clinton the nominee, would give Sanders and his ideals more political clout than they’ve had at almost any other point this election, and it will give his supporters all the justification they need for not handing their votes to Clinton. Sanders wins the primary tonight if he wins California, even if he won’t win the nomination, because it will allow his voters to demand even more progressivism from Clinton and other Democrats running for office in this country, but only if they hold their votes tight to their chests until such a time that Clinton and the Democrats incorporate more of Bernie’s ideas and policy stances into the official party platform.

Should Hillary Clinton and Democrats begin drifting to the political center after the primary is over, as they’ve done since the early 90s with the rise of New Democrats, Bernie supporters have the option to use their votes elsewhere, and they’d be very justified in doing so. Winning California and finishing close to Clinton in pledged delegates nationally would give Bernie’s ideas immediate credibility on the national stage, making the expected rightward shift from Clinton almost comically tonedeaf—and it would also make Bernie an even bigger winner.

If Clinton moves to the right after Sanders goes toe-to-toe with her on the national stage, his supporters should consider voting for a third party candidate if they value their long-term political power, even if it results in a Trump presidency. By winning California and essentially splitting the pledged delegate vote with Clinton nationally, Bernie can let the establishment know that his ideas and principles are the future, but that only happens if those who think like Sanders don’t give in to moderate politics and the I’m-voting-for-the-lesser-of-two-evils mindset, otherwise it’s all for naught.

Winning California means winning the primary season for Bernie Sanders, but it’s an even bigger deal for his supporters and young liberals tired of neoliberalism and capitalistic democracy. By taking the fight all the way to the convention, and by winning nearly half of all pledged delegates, and by winning the largest state in the Democratic primary, Sanders will be sending a message to American liberals that his ideas and ideals aren’t farfetched, extreme, or fringe. He’ll prove they’re very much as real and credible as moderatism, and his voters will carry that credibility with them to the polls on November 8th, where they will be able to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—and a whole slew of third party candidates.

All this clout and power rests in the hands of Bernie Sanders supporters, and when Clinton is named the nominee for the Democrats, that power increases, because she’ll need those BernieBros in November. It’s this needing of Sanders supporters from the Clinton campaign that should keep her left of her political comfort zone and what will ultimately make Sanders a winner from this primary season—with one huge caveat.

The only way Bernie Sanders wins, and the only way his campaign meant anything after July 25, is if his supporters stick by their principles, because conceding defeat and voting for the lesser of two evils undoes everything Sanders accomplished and shifts all the power right back to the establishment and their corporate donors. Right now the Democrats and Hillary Clinton want Bernie’s votes, and Bernie supporters can either hand themselves over willingly because Donald Trump is an asshole and a schmuck, or they can make the Democratic establishment earn them by actually being progressive. If Clinton positions herself as a moderate, failing to follow through on her progressive talk, and Bernie supporters vote for her anyway, Sanders loses. The general election is a game of chicken between neoliberal Democrats and the progressive wing of the party, and whoever blinks first loses. If Sanders supporters don’t want the Democratic Party to remain moderate and beholden to corporate interests, then getting in line and voting for Clinton is the wrong thing to do. If Clinton positions herself as a moderate and BernieBros don’t vote for her anyway, instead opting for a more (or real) liberal candidate like Jill Stein—who is remarkably more liberal than Sanders on many issues—and it costs Clinton the election, then Sanders’ ideas will have won, because all of the sudden the Democratic party will have to spend the next four years moving back to the left to recruit the Sanders wing of the party.

Bernie Sanders may not be the Democrat’s presidential nominee, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost. He’ll have won if his supporters and the weight of his movement continues to pressure Clinton and her party to keep moving to the left and away from corporate politics, creating a new standard for American progressivism. Or they can just vote for her anyways, and then Bernie will have truly lost the war against big money in politics. It’s ultimately up to them whether Bernie Sanders wins or loses now.

Last modified: June 9, 2016