Here’s what the numbers are telling us: Secretary Hillary Clinton demolishes Senator Bernie Sanders when it comes to African-American and Latino voters. According to Harry Enten at fivethirtyeight.com, Clinton’s worst performance among African-Americans so far was in Oklahoma, where “only” 71% voted for her. In Texas, she defeated Sanders among Hispanics by over 40 points. In a party where the minority vote is absolutely critical to win not only the nomination, but also (via turnout) the general election, it seems as if Clinton is a lock.
It’s tough to dispute that.
It gets even tougher when you consider that the Democratic nominating contest awards delegates on a proportional basis, which means Sanders doesn’t only have to win in more states than Clinton, but he has to win by bigger margins than he is probably capable of.
The only way Sanders wins a significant number of delegates compared to Clinton is if something big changes the dynamics of the race.
The question is: what might that be?
Those on the right would probably argue that Clinton’s biggest potential issue is, as Bernie says, “the damn emails.” As most everyone knows, when Clinton was Secretary of State, she channeled her official email through a private, unsecured server, and some of the emails moving through that private server were classified. If true, Clinton could be indicted and found guilty of mishandling classified information.
But according to MediaMatters, there’s not a whole lot to this particular story that can’t be explained by the media’s need for conservative clickbait. It only has legs because it plays into the right-wing talking point that the Clinton family can’t be trusted. But as the National Law Journal wrote, “It is difficult to find prior cases where the unwise handling of classified information led to a federal indictment.”
So “the damn emails” probably aren’t going to change the dynamic (especially when you add on the fact that Bernie has already said, “Enough with the damn emails!,” signaling that he won’t try to make any hay out of this particular controversy).
What else we got?
The left might argue that Clinton’s biggest potential issue is whatever she said on “the transcripts,” where “the transcripts” is shorthand for Clinton’s apparent ties to (in Bernie’s parlance) the millionaire and billionaire class.
Before she began running for president, Clinton was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to give speeches to a number of Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs. The Sanders campaign, as well as the press, including the New York Times, which has endorsed Clinton, is calling for Clinton to release the transcripts of those speeches. Sanders’ supporters suspect that Clinton won’t do so because the transcripts reveal just how much she is in the pocket of those who caused the financial meltdown. According to a report in Politico, that suspicion may be true.
But even if it is true, even if the transcripts show her to be “so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now…more like a Goldman Sachs managing director,” would that be enough to change her appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters? Frankly, I don’t think so. She’s winning by such large margins among those groups that even if the transcripts were a deal breaker for a number of them, the number probably won’t be big enough to swing the election.
Which leaves Sanders with…what?
The only other thing I can think of (outside of some major surprise, such as the mainstream revelation that both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are widely reported to have visited the private island of a man who is now being charged with keeping underage sex slaves on that island)…outside of something tawdry like that, the only thing I can think of that might change the dynamic of the race is Donald Trump himself.
It’s safe to say that Trump is going to win the Republican nomination: Kasich and Carson are also-rans, and Cruz and Rubio are both too self-involved to sacrifice their campaigns for the good of their party, which means they’ll all keep splitting the anti-Trump vote just long enough for him to win the nomination. Trump will have the whole thing wrapped up by mid-March (unless by some miracle, Rubio chooses to drop out later today, which he won’t do).
The Democrats, however, could be fighting for the nomination until at least May, and Sanders has already vowed that he won’t drop out until all 50 states have voted. That would give Trump a solid two or three months when the only person he has to campaign against is Hillary Clinton, while Clinton will still have to be defending her left flank against Sanders. Those months will give the Democratic electorate a chance to see how Trump plans to go after Clinton, and to decide whether they think her questionable skills as a candidate are up to the challenge.
The New York Times recently put together a graphic showing the differences between Sanders’ and Clinton’s core voters. It reveals, among other things, that Clinton gets voters based on the idea that she “can win.” But if Trump runs as masterfully a tuned campaign as he has throughout the Republican primary, the idea that Clinton “can win” against Trump might start to erode, especially since it’s clear that Trump is going to have a field day with all the skeletons in the Clinton closet.
Sanders, on the other hand, gets voters based on being “honest and trustworthy.” This is a man who has the highest approval ratings in the Senate, as well as the highest “favorable” and lowest “unfavorable” ratings among all the candidates (for what it’s worth, Clinton has the highest unfavorable ratings among all candidates). What this means is that people generally like the guy, and they trust what he says and why he says it. He basically doesn’t have any skeletons in his closet either (we would have heard about them by now).
In essentially every poll, Sanders does much better against Trump than Clinton does. Her unfavorability ratings are a real thing. We all know people who absolutely refuse to vote for her, for whatever reason (and yes, some of those reasons are absolutely sexist, but not all of them are). These are people who would vote for a Democrat, but they will not vote for Hillary Clinton.
What’s more, all of those reasons they won’t vote for her are going to trumpeted near and far by the Donald, and not just in September and October, but starting immediately after he wraps up the nomination, which will be in about two weeks.
That will give Democrats who have yet to vote in the primaries the chance to decide whether Trump’s juvenile tactics will actually do real and lasting damage to Clinton’s electability. If Democrats start to question whether Clinton “can win,” then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be smart enough to nominate Sanders.
But that’s an awfully big “if”.