COLUMN BY JOHN WINGERT
“In every presidential election, Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans just fall in line,” Bill Clinton said in a 2003 speech. The victory of George W. Bush over John McCain, the triumph of Bob Dole in 1996 and even the candidacy of George H. Bush all supported that axiom. Since the era of George McGovern, Democrats have been fond of liberal heartthrobs over practical establishment favorites.
At least that used to be the case. Obama prevailing in 2008 seemed to show the power of an insurgent, grassroots campaign for a man who inspired favoritism for eloquent passion over years of experience. One could easily argue that the primary victories of Al Gore and John Kerry showed a certain power behind the establishment. Now, the Democratic Party has come fully under the umbrella of the establishment.
The efforts of the Sanders campaign have come to nothing due to the superdelegate and infrastructural advantages of the triumphant Hillary Clinton campaign. After disappointing near-wins in Iowa and Nevada, his campaign has almost totally lost its New Hampshire momentum. Without superdelegates or a Super PAC, the Sanders campaign is flailing, but it is more than that.
Democrats who have been told for more than a decade that Clinton is the responsible choice with electability are falling in line. Straying from the liberal tradition of pursuing passionate ideologues, Democrats are falling in line behind the establishment candidate with all the money and endorsements who they have been told is the inevitable, electable choice for years.
However, on the other side of the aisle, anarchic, riotous chaos has broken loose as a base discontent with the establishment of the Republican Party has done everything they can to rip the big-tent to shreds. Voters who fell in line for George W. Bush over the insurgent McCain and his campaign finance reform agenda in 2000 are now fleeing the establishment in droves. Celebrities with no political experience have been able to get a majority of Republican votes in polls.
Most notably, Donald Trump is on an unstoppable freight train headed straight for the nomination. He has shown an ability to skyrocket and linger more than anyone else. Even after saying things well beyond the pale of normal conversation, Trump was able to hold a firm, vice grip on polling figures everywhere but Iowa.
It is also important to remember that the current number-two pick, Ted Cruz, is at times even more loathed. Cruz has not been endorsed by a single senator who works with him because of his extremism. Through filibusters, fiscal cliff games of chicken and absolutist rhetoric, he has single-handedly managed to alienate every Republican who works with him.
It appeared for a time that the Democrats would be willing to consider someone with bona fides as a principled liberal. Sanders, despite being more extreme and less refined, has held consistent positions on gay marriage, campaign finance reform, the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. However, after being told where to fall in line, Democrats have done just that.
In the meantime, Sanders has done exactly what Clinton needed: provide a somewhat viable alternative that made her path to the nomination seem less inevitable. Sanders certainly gave a concentrated effort to win the Democratic nomination, but rather than actually achieve that goal, his efforts have only lent credibility to Clinton and given the impression that she has had to work for the nomination like any other candidate. Before Sanders, Clinton would have suffered from an even greater enthusiasm deficit, but Sanders has forced her to mobilize early and create state infrastructures and grassroots excitement that will benefit her in the general election contest with Trump.