NEW YORK – Hey Bernie Sanders supporters: Hillary Clinton has a talking point for you.
Confident that she has the Democratic nomination pretty much locked down and turning toward a general election contest against Donald Trump, her surrogates and paid Internet trolls are targeting Sanders devotees via email and seeding comment threads on political websites with a low-key sales pitch.
It goes like this: We’re not asking you to vote for Hillary in November. We are asking you to work for and donate to “down ticket” Democratic candidates for Congress, governor, state rep and so on. Oh, and if you could kindly hold your fire against Hillary — because those attacks help Trump — that would be awesome too, thanks.
Like all things Clinton, this tightly scripted DNC-approved don’t-vote-for-me-vote-for-other-Dems argument carries more than a whiff of triangulation, big data analytics and well-managed focus groups. It also reeks of desperation.
At this stage in a presidential campaign, the likely nominee normally wants to unify the party by convincing voters who voted against her in the primary to see her as next best, good enough, and enough of a champion for some of her defeated opponent’s ideas to justify supporting her with some enthusiasm. I can’t recall, even following the bitter Democratic primary fight in 1980, Jimmy Carter telling Ted Kennedy’s acolytes not to bother with him but to please pull levers for Democratic state senators.
Hillaryites are sweating the progressive #BernieorBust movement — a recent poll of Sanders voters found 1 out of 4 swearing they won’t vote for Clinton in November, no way, no how. Like Miley Cyrus’ pledge to leave the U.S. if Trump wins, these promises are more hot air than statements of serious intent. But it’s not like that 25 percent drops to zero by Nov. 8. Some Berners will stay home on election day. Disaffected Sanderians will give Jill Stein’s Green Party the biggest surge it has ever seen. (That’s probably how I’ll roll.)
And yes — despite the opinions of the center-right pundits who have been wrong about everything all year long — a significant number of liberal Democrats will defect to Donald Trump. As a friend told me, “I always vote Democratic. In this race, Donald Trump is the Democrat and Hillary Clinton is the Republican.”
If Hillary wins the nomination, she’ll need as many votes from former Berners as she can get. So why is she giving up on them already?
There are two answers.
She doesn’t think she can convince Sanders’ supporters that she’s a good-enough second-best.
She doesn’t want to try.
She may be right about the first point. Stretching back over more than two decades, Clinton’s public record in national politics is too long and too consistent to make a credible case that she has a left-of-center bone in her body. From Hillarycare to NAFTA to welfare reform to the crime bill to Iraq and Libya and Syria, she’s always sided with neo-con war profiteers and corporations over people. (Hillary’s folks claim that she was secretly against NAFTA, in private, before she came out in favor of it, in public. But secretly doesn’t count in politics.)
Hillary’s refusal to make concessions to Sanders’ surprisingly successful democratic-socialist insurgency is highly illuminating about who she is and where she stands.
Clinton and Sanders are now tied in national polls. Does anyone doubt that if he were as well known when he began his campaign last year as he is now, that he would have trounced her? Given Sanders’ popularity and the real threat he presented to her, a smarter and/or less pigheaded candidate than Hillary would have co-opted the man, his ideas and his supporters. But there’s zero sign that she’s considering him as her vice president or a Cabinet position. She has stolen many of Sanders’ topics. But she hasn’t adopted any of his major ideas.
At one of the debates she misleadingly implied that she supports Bernie’s national $15/hour minimum wage. Actually, she supports a Scroogesque $12. (If the minimum wage had kept up with inflation, it would be over $22.)
She still doesn’t want to make public college tuition free, as Bernie Sanders does. Nor would she lift a finger to replace the insurance profit protection racket that is Obamacare with the universal health care available around the globe.
In Hillary Clinton we have a right-wing Democrat who campaigned as a right-wing Democrat and who will now tack even farther right this summer and fall. She’s so far right that she won’t even bother to pretend to throw a bone to progressives, much less bring Sanders or his ideas into an Abe Lincoln-style Team of Rivals a la Hillary. No one should say they’re surprised when President Hill turns out to a rabid righty.
Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
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