“….And the nomination is going to Rand Paul. You watch, this is what I do for a living.” Chris Matthews, Hardball, 2013
The pundits who enlighten and amuse political junkies like myself can’t be faulted for predictions are wildly off-base from time to time. If it’s your job to discuss politics 24-7, there will be boners such as the one above uttered by Chris Matthews in 2013 when he foretold of a GOP nomination for Rand Paul. He had a whole rationale for the seemingly bizarre conjecture which is actually kind of compelling (check out the link if you’re so inclined).
What was silly, though, were the predictions heard during the New Hampshire Primary returns that “Clinton is still going to be the nominee,” uttered in the midst of what would become a 22-point loss. I mean, ride those establishment narratives for all they’re worth, if you feel you must. They might actually pan out.
Surprisingly, one political pundit who didn’t stand-pat on the establishment narrative Tuesday night was Chris Matthews. When Sanders was declared the winner, Matthews responded, “Sanders is emerging — perhaps — as the front-runner,” and then he launched into a detailed discussion of Bernie’s campaign mojo rising. Andrea Mitchell (of all people) heaped praise on Sanders’ ground game in South Carolina, noting that his operation is way beyond what anyone expected—as if they envisioned taco stands. Later there was a circular encounter group with their field correspondents led by Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell, coming clean about how they suspected all along that Sanders had it in him.
None of this Bernie-love could have been predicted to anyone paying attention to MSNBC. Just 24 hours prior, MSNBC had provided a wall-to-wall infomercial for the Clinton campaign. A little over a week prior, Matthews was red-baiting Sanders in a one-on-one interview with Hillary. For the Hardball host to reverse course and give Sanders a second look, was due to the fact that Sanders took New Hampshire by more than 20 points. But there’s more to the story.
I think another aspect that impressed Team MSNBC was that the exit polling revealed a plurality of trouble for Clinton. Sanders got 7 percent more women voting for him than Hillary. That’s a lot of ladies burning in hell. Of people under 30, the Senator won 83 percent. Self-described liberals went for Sanders to the tune of 67 percent, and Independents (a.k.a. swing voters) chose him by 73 percent. He also held his own among minority voters with 48 percent of the vote to Hillary’s 53. Here’s the kicker, 92 percent of voters said they chose Sanders because they see him as honest and trustworthy, and 82 percent said that he cares about people like them. Those numbers show he’s made the deep connection. This is not something Clinton can fix by tweaking her messaging, or firing staff. This goes deep into issues of character.
What should be even more distressing to Team Clinton is the fact that she didn’t carry one single county in New Hampshire, not even in the North Country that’s been so kind to her in the past. In this map the green represents Sanders wins by county, and the darker areas correspond to a higher percent of the vote he received. The darkest green county went 70 percent for Sanders, and the lightest went 57.
After weeks and months of promoting Clinton as inevitable, and Sanders as a Socialist fool, it must have been painful for MSNBC to switch gears so dramatically. But they did it, and they did it well. It was fantastic television because these are the smartest people you will see commenting on politics on the TV box. I’m glad that, for whatever reason, they’ve been released from the gravitation pull of Pack Journalism, because, this is how you get the destructive phenomena of the inevitable candidate in the first place.
Doesn’t it seem like there should be a better way to choose our leader than through Pack Journalism offering up inevitable (and inevitably weak) candidates? Remember the inevitable Hillary Clinton 2008 when she was running against a black, first-term Senator with a vaguely Muslim-sounding name? There was absolutely no way Barrack Hussein Obama could pose a threat to the formidable Clinton machine, with all of her endorsements, consultants, experience and PAC money.
Then Obama won Iowa, which wasn’t supposed to happen. After that, he won South Carolina, but this victory was explained away by race, much as Sanders’ New Hampshire win has been, because of course a black man won the heavily African American vote in The Palmetto State. Next Obama won 13 of the 24 Super Tuesday states in 2008, and Whoa! Suddenly, the pundits and super-delegates who had already punched their dance cards for Hillary embarrassingly had to reconsider. At this point, Clinton’s obnoxiously defensive campaign crouch probably made those flips easier to flop.
I’ve heard it said that the bright spot in the Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire loss is that it will make her a stronger candidate going forward. Well, okay. If you must. But just to let you know, there’s a candidate who is pulling huge enthusiastic crowds, with a message that is resonating with the zeitgeist. I realize the 90s hold a mystical appeal for many, but it’s time to move on. Those of us who lived through the 90s remember when Hillary was “co-president”—NAFTA, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, the End of Welfare As We Know It, mass incarceration, deregulation of telecommunications, and deregulation of Wall Street, were just a few Clintonian Greatest Hits.
The Clinton way is to never be out-flanked on the right on policy, foreign or domestic. I believe the Republican Party in this country wouldn’t have become so crazy if it hadn’t been for the Clinton’s rightward push. The further they triangulated, the more territory the GOP had to stake out in the wacko hinterlands. And don’t believe for a second this happened while progressives were asleep at the wheel. Remember the WTO protests? The Battle in Seattle?
Right now, Hillary is in trouble and when that happens she lashes out, with the effect of dividing Democrats. I’m at the point where I feel like I’m watching a horror movie, and I want to look away because I know the next scene is when there’s going to be splatter. South Carolina is where they have traditionally employed their dog whistles and they’ve made every indication that they’re pulling out the stops and getting nasty in the hopes of stopping the Sanders Express. I’d hoped they’d rise above this history, given how high the stake are around issues of race—and maybe they still will. We shall see.
There’s no reason the Clinton campaign can’t improve its performance without employing dog whistles. I’d like to see them do something they’ve not done yet: tell us what the campaign stands for. Tell the B-Team — David Brock and Sidney Blumenthal — to set aside the dark arts and just focus on fundamentals. What’s your vision? Why should we care?
Also, if we want to come out of 2016 intact, the Democratic Party needs to protect the popular vote in the primaries. Numerous stories since the New Hampshire drubbing have reported the threat that Superdelegates will push Bernie aside no matter what voters decide. Clearly, this is meant to dampen enthusiasm for Sanders. I believe it’s an empty threat. Superdelegates only represent 15 percent of the total count, and they tend to move with the popular vote, regardless. Moreover, the media professionals peddling this script do so at their own risk because it plays right into Sanders’ narrative that The Establishment is not serving the interest of regular people.
If the Democratic Party launches an alternate candidate or brokers a convention, they risk destroying the fresh green shoots that Bernie Sanders is growing in the party. Worse, snuffing out a Sanders nomination won fair and square, is a sure way to make a Sanders coalition of Dems and NPAs magically disappear in the general which could lead to a Cruz or Trump presidency. I can easily imagine this turning people off of the Democratic brand for good. Think of all those packed arenas, the under-30 voters, the liberal wing of the party. Now wave goodbye.
Our job should not be to divide. Our job should be to bring people together.
Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy for clients ranging from healthcare companies to museums. She’s Associate Producer for Progressive News Network (tune this Sunday at 7 pm or download the podcast anytime), and the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. All opinions offered here are her own, delivered from the perspective of social theory, cultural criticism, and near constant stream of caffeine. Political and media analysis through a Progressive lens. Read all of Brook’s articles here. Check out brookhines.com.