Hillary Clinton came into this election season with more advantages than any Democratic candidate in the last century.
Before even a single American had voted, Clinton had a 351-superdelegate lead. She had the best pre-election name recognition of any non-incumbent presidential candidate in a half-century. She had the implicit support of a popular incumbent president. She had not even a single half-serious primary competitor from within her own party. She had a massive, intimidating war-chest of funds as well as a near-infinitude of potential fundraising streams. She had the best-organized and best-funded super-PACs anyone has ever had. She had the gratitude of state Democratic parties across the country, having lined their coffers with funds both directly and indirectly for years. She had held the most high-profile president-like job (Secretary of State) for four years. She had a popular ex-president for a spouse.
Clinton had the support of nearly every Democratic-leaning organization in America. She had experience running for President and a team of presidential-campaign veterans at her beck and call. She had the Democratic National Committee in her back pocket, which ensured that she'd only have to attend as many Democratic debates as she chose. She had deep and longstanding support from within the media establishment. She had historical significance as the woman most likely to be the first-ever female President. She had eight years of White House experience and six years in the U.S. Senate. She had state election statutes that made it hard or impossible to either register or vote as an independent in most Democratic primaries.
Clinton had a primary schedule that put most of her strongest states first. She had the tacit agreement of media professionals nationwide that unpledged delegates could and would be reported in the exact same fashion as pledged delegates. She had as much time as she wanted to campaign, having no job at the time she announced other than voluntary non-profit work and for-profit speeches. She had the implicit assurance of CNN and MSNBC that she'd have a surrogate or supporter, and usually two or three, on every political panel they convened.
And she had a 60-point lead on her next-closest competitor.
It's now April 18th, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have been statistically tied in every single national poll taken in the last month.
Bernie Sanders entered the 2016 primary election a superlatively old -- and, to be honest, old-looking -- Independent socialist Jew with a bevy of Old-World tics (like talking with his hands), no fashion sense whatsoever, unruly hair, no super-PACs, and no national name recognition. The Democratic Party felt no loyalty to him, at either the state or national level. He was at three percent in the polls. He was from one of the smallest states in the nation, one of the ones that few outside New England ever talk about or think about. He had no money. He had no friends in the media. He had surrogates, indeed a diverse cast of them, but somehow they never got invited onto major-media political panels. He had a "fringe-candidate" sign on his back that it seemed he would never get off. He had no way to force Clinton to do more than four or five debates, all of which would be held, per the decree of the Democratic National Convention, at the most inconvenient hours. He had a penchant for blunt talk that seemed certain to sink him in a political climate where every mental lapse quickly becomes a meme.
I'm sorry, but the truth is that less than a year ago Bernie Sanders had absolutely nothing, and Hillary Clinton was better positioned to win the Democratic nomination for President than any Democrat in the year before an election since Franklin D. Roosevelt. That we pretend that any measure in which Sanders comes up short -- say, in his support among African-Americans -- is somehow a fatal flaw in the man and not a sign that absolute nobodies don't become household heroes in under six months is an insult to America's collective intelligence.
So it's time to get real.
And the sign that it's well past time for somebody to just say what most of America already knows to be true is that today Philip Bump of The Washington Post wrote a scathing editorial complaining that Bernie Sanders says his average contribution is $27 when it's in fact $27.89.
It's official: We've been through the looking glass for far too long, America.
Enough with a media so stuck in its own shirtsleeves that it can't take the long view of anything anymore.
Clinton is a bad candidate and the whole country knows it.
Sanders would be killing it this election season if he hadn't spent all his time and energy just trying to get a single surrogate on CNN or introducing himself for the very first time to a middle-class housewife or union plumber in Missouri.
My point is, you're damn right Sanders supporters are angry.
And you're damn right they think that Sanders -- facing the longest odds it's possible to imagine any politician in the contemporary era facing -- can win.
Despite all her pre-election and ongoing advantages, Hillary Clinton is nearly as disliked as Donald Trump (-24 favorability/unfavorability rating), even as Sanders is, per the most recent polling, the most popular presidential candidate in either party (+9). She's performed worse than Sanders -- over and over and over again -- against all of the remaining GOP candidates in head-to-head polling. In the battleground states that will decide the November election, Sanders consistently outperforms her against the Republican contenders. Already under federal investigation by more than 100 FBI agents for running a private, unsecured email server out of her basement -- an investigation which will cripple her for the rest of the election season no matter where it goes -- she's now added to that a public refusal to release even a single transcript of the numerous $225,000/hour speeches she gave to the same Wall Street criminals who nearly sent the nation into another Great Depression just five years ago.
Clinton's background is that of a moderate Goldwater Republican whose positions continue to be to the right of the Democratic base -- and where they're not, it's only because she's changed her positions over the past six months to curry favor with Democratic voters. Her judgment, throughout her professional life, has been poor -- everywhere from Iraq to Libya, from her inexplicably off-grid email server to the speeches she gave for cash at a time she was expecting to run for president, from dodgy conflicts of interest relating to the Clinton Global Initiative to trying to become a carpet-bagging New York Senator before she'd even moved to the state. She did little in the Senate that anyone remembers -- she certainly did nothing whatsoever about the housing crisis -- and had a checkered record at the State Department. She's not seen as honest or trustworthy by a majority of general-election voters, and she herself bears a substantial part of the responsibility for that state of affairs.
And that's why she can't win the nomination with the voters.
That's why she'll need to clinch the nomination using the "unpledged super-delegates" whose loyalty to her was purchased beforehand via private big-money fundraisers she attended.
Despite nearly a year of false delegate counts that included unpledged super-delegates as though they were pledged -- thus scaring off Democratic challengers and, later, potential Sanders voters -- and a news media that has given her surrogates a voice in the daily news cycle that Sanders' people have never enjoyed, Clinton won't be able to close the deal exclusively through an appeal to the people who matter most: voters.
She leads by 28 points among African-Americans in New York? It's a miracle Sanders is performing even as well as he is, given the structural disadvantages he suffers relative to his opponent because of how we run elections in America.
She has a 2.4-million vote lead in the popular vote? That this is an eight-point race (54 percent to 46 percent) is an absolute indictment of Hillary Clinton as a candidate. Anyone with her advantages would be up on an old socialist Jew from Vermont with rumpled suits and unruly hair by fifty points right now.
Let's stop kidding ourselves.
Hillary is holding on by a thread, because she's a terrible candidate.
Sanders is only tied in the national polls, rather than way ahead -- and 194 delegates down in the pledged-delegate race rather than 200 ahead -- because we have a system that makes it a jaw-dropping Mystery of the Universe that he's doing as well as he is.
In New York, Sanders faces a primary he almost certainly would win -- and everyone knows it -- if same-day party registration were permitted. And even without it, he'd win if he had two more weeks to campaign, as the polling in New York has gone from Clinton +48 to Clinton +22 to Clinton +13 to Clinton +6 in just the last three weeks.
So how can Sanders win?
He can win by being what he so obviously is when we strip away the ten-mile head start Hillary Clinton had in this election season: by being the better candidate.
In almost every state, Sanders performs better with voters the more they're exposed to him, and Hillary worse the more voters are exposed to her.
Sanders' performance with every demographic besides the very old is improving over time. Heck, Hillary is losing delegates even between the time people vote for her at a primary or caucus and the time they're supposed to show up at county and state conventions -- which Hillary supporters aren't, in shockingly large numbers.
It's a good thing Harry Reid didn't stay neutral in Nevada as he'd promised, as the strings he pulled on Election Day in the Silver State ensured a narrow victory for Clinton -- which predictably disappeared in the second stage of the voting, the county-convention stage.
It's a good thing Arizona had reduced polling stations in its most populous county by 80 percent, given that on Election Day Sanders beat Clinton in live voting 50 percent to 46.5 percent. Thousands walked away from those six-hour lines without voting.
It's a good thing ties in Massachusetts, Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa were put on CNN's "Magic Wall" as every bit the overwhelming victories for Clinton as were the primary votes in Alabama and Mississippi. An honest media would've put those four -- and, yes, Sanders' win in Michigan -- on the board as votes that more or less split down the middle, not just in the popular vote but in the delegate count. Our system disfavors insurgents by making a loss by one vote look like every bit the resounding defeat that a loss by a million votes is. The truth? With the advantages she had, those votes in Massachusetts, Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa were all losses for Clinton. No candidate with her advantages and worth her salt would've won those states by anything less than 10 percent. Get a political pundit in private and they'll admit it to you.
The point: Clinton misused super-delegates from the jump by bringing them on-board before a single vote had been cast, by permitting the media to tally them as though they were pledged delegates, by allowing them to flaunt their states' votes, and by frankly not caring one whit if they supported the popular-vote or delegate-count leader -- as she was neither back in 2015 when they all agreed to vote for her in Philadelphia.
Now, despite her endless slate of electoral and media and circumstantial advantages, she's going to fail to reach 2,383 delegates via pledged delegates alone.
And the only argument she can make to being the better candidate in fact is that her head start on Sanders was so extraordinary in its size and scope that all he could do was battle her to a virtual draw in the delegate battle in March (51 percent to 49 percent) and beat her so far in the delegate battle in April (55 percent to 45 percent). Indeed, her pre-election lead was so great that half the country's Democrats still believe she's more electable in the fall than Sanders, despite there being no statistical evidence to support the claim -- and a mountain of evidence to the contrary.
So let's be clear: In a world in which both candidates start on an even footing and receive equal treatment from the media, the current Clinton-Sanders race would be Sanders +15. And everybody in American politics knows it, including all of the unpledged super-delegates.
So when both Clinton and Sanders fail to clinch the nomination via pledged delegates alone, and both head to Philadelphia with an eye toward wooing the (still completely unpledged) super-delegates, Clinton will win if her advantages are treated as assets rather than signs that she should have been beating this old socialist Jew from Vermont with the rumpled suits and unruly hair by twenty or more points all along.
And Sanders will win if the Democrats pick the better candidate -- which, given the harrowing dangers of a Trump presidency, I damn well hope they do.
Your ball, New York.
Seth Abramson is the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University) and the author, most recently, of DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).