What Happened in Vegas


Winning and spinning in the presidential pageant.

Reality began to dawn last week in the Democratic presidential race, and was not altogether welcome.

Some Bernie Sanders supporters, rudely awakened from their White House dreams, got mad over Hillary Clinton's surge after the October 13 debate in Las Vegas. So they denied it, attacked the pundits, charged CNN with being in the tank for Hillary and started a petition for the President to intervene. (It's amazing what you can do these days by executive order.)

Bernie's fanatics cited focus groups and online polls that were as reliable as old-time Chicago ballot boxes. I withdrew from their Facebook frenzy for the same reason I gave up arguing with the crazy lady with a horn who always runs for mayor of Washington: it only encourages her.

Cantankerousness does sometimes pay off, as when Sanders and John McCain cooperated to pass VA reform. But riding public anger only gets you so far. Caught between the right's "Washington doesn't work -- elect us and we'll prove it!" and Clinton's "I'm a progressive who likes to get things done," Sanders declares that he needs a revolution. Is that a slogan or an epitaph?

The signs are not good. Some of Bernie's revolutionaries were upset with his statement that their hero Edward Snowden should "pay a penalty" for violating the Espionage Act, though Sanders acknowledged that Snowden's revelations about NSA domestic surveillance "played a very important role in educating the American public." Clinton, meanwhile, was less sympathetic, saying somewhat disingenuously that Snowden "could have been a whistle-blower." (She also refused to regret voting for the Patriot Act.)

Here we see the left's disconnect from reality. You cannot invoke the rule of law when Kim Davis defies federal court rulings on marriage equality, only to dismiss it in another case because you agree with the lawbreaker. Refusing to distinguish what should be from what is, the left impairs its influence over what can be changed.

Sanders showed his own progress when he said "Black Lives Matter" and spoke the name of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in police custody. And he admirably donated a $2,700 contribution from prescription drug profiteer Martin Shkreli to DC's Whitman-Walker Health. But he upset some supporters when he helped Clinton by saying, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails." She thanked him, and the crowd cheered. But the media are not sick of the emails, nor will the Republicans on the Benghazi Committee be, even if their questions at the October 22 hearing are delivered from under brown paper bags.

Meanwhile, Vice President Biden's dithering over whether to run was overtaken by Clinton's strong showing. It's hard not to sympathize; imagine watching someone who was three spots behind you in the order of succession jump the line. He was still considering a run as of this writing, but as Farai Chideya at FiveThirtyEight said, "It's awfully hard to ride in to save the day when the day doesn't seem to need saving."

Don't get me wrong: Biden and Sanders are fine men. If Hillary has another case of what the Republicans call Benghazi Flu, either of them would make a fine choice to prevent what would surely be a highly entertaining Trump or Cruz presidency.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We haven't even gotten to the first caucus or primary. Eight years ago at this point, Barack Obama was just a junior senator from Illinois who was not widely perceived as a threat to Clinton; the Birther lunacy had not yet exploded.

Anything could happen. For example, during the South Carolina primary, every black person in the state could be pulling down Confederate statues and forget to vote, and the Clinton juggernaut would come to a halt. A fiery socialist might turn out to be just what the voters wanted.

Alas for Sanders, Clinton's post-debate bump suggests that, barring a calamity, she will lock up the nomination by early spring. Sanders has influenced the campaign with his laser focus on economic inequality, but has done little to broaden his appeal sufficiently to pose a serious threat to Clinton. Playing games with online polls will not change that.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Blade and Bay Windows.