Remember, the Sanders campaign decided early on that his path to the nomination consisted of keeping his core 30% base intact, and nothing more: As The Atlantic noted, “And then, Sanders aides believe, he’ll easily win enough delegates to put him into contention at the convention. They say they don’t need him to get more than 30 percent to make that happen.”
That was important, as we’ve discussed, because it set the tone for the entirety of their campaign—from othering the supporters of other candidates as “neoliberal corporatist shills” (and worse) to sticking with a message that had failed Sanders already in 2016, when only two candidates had been in the race.
And it’s shocking how close to 30% his results have been:
||Sanders share of the vote
Take a guess what his overall percentage is so far.
It’s amazing seeing a strategy play out so well! They set out to win 30%, and they nailed it. (Well, close enough.)
Why didn’t someone say, “Bernie, 30% is, uh, less than 50%”? No one seriously considered that because, again, it would have required compromising that message of a “dependable left politician.”
Or, as Sanders’ campaign manager said when I questioned the lack of message adjustments?
Of course Faiz was right! The economic injustices remain! But Sanders’ approach wasn’t winning new converts. There isn't just a single way to talk about injustice, and many do so more eloquently, with a more inclusive approach that makes clear to all base Democrats that they’re being seen and heard. Sanders never cared to even try to broaden that message without sacrificing his core ideals.
In fact, Sanders took that rigidity to such absurd lengths that he refused even to talk to people he might disagree with!
So the only people worth talking to are those who would endorse his brand of politics? Is that why he skipped Selma this year, because black voters—who have a greater claim to grievance politics than anyone else—wouldn’t vote for him?
Such an approach to politics is a downright Trumpian/Bushian “us versus them” mentality, and it permeated every level of his campaign, from Sanders to his core campaign team and all the way down to his surrogates and supporters. Grievance politics requires an enemy, and rather than train their fire on their true enemy, they indiscriminately shot at anyone who wasn’t part of their core 30%—to the point that Elizabeth Warren herself became the enemy. There’s a reason Warren refused to shake Sanders’ hand after that one debate.
The irony? Sanders’ brand of exclusionary grievance politics is the best friend any establishment ever had. Why worry about Sanders when Sanders isn’t interested in building a governing majority? Why listen to the LEFT itself if the left will jump in bed with the guy uninterested in building a governing majority?
That’s his ceiling. He only significantly broke it in Nevada, where caucuses disenfranchise the bulk of voters, and in his home state of Vermont, where he barely managed a majority. And if he could only muster the barest of majorities in VERMONT, of all places, how was he supposed to do so elsewhere?
Thirty percent was never a winning number, and the fact that the Sanders campaign built an entire campaign around hitting that—and only that—was political malpractice that doomed the left this presidential cycle.