Bernie Sanders’s appearance in Washington Square Park last night before an enormous, energized crowd suggested once again that tensions are running high between the Sanders and Clinton camps. A Sanders surrogate blasted “corporate Democratic whores,” which got lots of press. But Sanders disavowed the remark, and the more important thing was Sanders’s continued assault on Hillary Clinton for benefiting from plutocratic campaign money, which has likely led many Sanders backers to view her as deeply tainted by a corrupt system.
Keep this context in mind as you watch this appearance on Morning Joe today by Jane Sanders, the candidate’s wife. She suggested that if neither candidate secures a majority of delegates after the voting finishes (which could happen, though at that point super-delegates would likely support Clinton at the convention, giving her a majority of delegates overall), the Sanders forces will seek concessions, in the party platform and in the form of reforms to the Democratic nominating process.
Ms. Sanders said the Sanders camp would seek to “make sure that the issues that we’re raising are addressed in the Democratic platform, and that Bernie gets the nomination.” If the latter doesn’t happen, one assumes they will continue pushing for the former. And she added:
“Every state has its own rules. I think it’s crazy. We’re running a national election. We should have same day registration. Open primaries and caucuses. And allow the people to vote.
“Probably a lot of those people out there in the crowd [in Washington Square Park last night] are not even able to vote in this election because they didn’t change their registration to Democrat last October. We’re bringing a lot more people into the party, and the party is shutting the door on them.”
This is a reference to the fact that a lot of Sanders backers may not get to vote in New York because of overly restrictive state deadlines to re-register as Democrats. Her comments are the clearest indication I’m aware of that the Sanders camp may seek changes to the nominating process at the end of the nominating battle.
The other day, I floated a series of reforms the Sanders forces might seek: reduced numbers of super delegates; an end to closed primaries, so independents can participate; a more rationale, transparent process for fixing the schedule of debates. Sanders, too, benefited from an undemocratic feature of the process — caucuses, which are inconvenient and may disadvantage working people — so ending those could also be part of such a conversation.
Those ideas were merely intended to jump-start a discussion about broad principles. As election rules expert Josh Putnam explains, there are many obstacles to achieving such reforms nationally. The electoral primary/caucus system is basically a kludge-like amalgam of rules and customs that have evolved via overlapping input from state governments, state parties, and national parties. But leading figures — such as Sanders or his high profile supporters who are top Dems — can seek consensus around broad reform goals and then try to move towards making them happen through appropriate channels.
“National parties can develop broad principles of reform and push agendas for the nomination process,” Elaine Kamarck, the author of “Primary Politics” and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells me. “They have done so in the past, and they can — and will — do so in the future.”
Meanwhile, there are other reform ideas floating around. Markos Moulitsas makes the case that closed primaries are desirable as a means of protecting the party — unaffiliated voters can be brought into the party via registration, provided it’s made easier, say, with a same-day option. Above all, whatever is the best way to accomplish this, you’d think the Democratic Party would want to stand on the side of engaging more young and unaffiliated voters in the process. It seems absurd that many Sanders supporters in New York will be excluded simply because they missed early re-registration deadlines (yes, this is a feature of restrictive state-based voting rules, not national party rules, but still, it deserves attention).
The big-picture point here is that, if Clinton does win the nomination, two questions will then arise. First: What, if anything, will have to be done to ease bitterness between the two camps and keep Sanders supporters engaged in the fall election and beyond? Second: Has Sanders created a movement with any lasting potential, and if so, how will it continue to sustain itself and/or how might it nourish Democratic politics going forward?
A demographic analysis commissioned by Ron Brownstein finds that Sanders has done better among Democrats than any recent insurgent in Dem primaries, including George McGovern (1972), Ted Kennedy (1980), Jesse Jackson (1984), and Howard Dean (2004). Sanders has won a startling 71 percent of voters under 30 in 21 combined states with exit polls. Brownstein suggests this might hint at a possible generational shift underway in Democratic politics, in which the price of keeping the Millennial generation firmly anchored in the Democratic coalition may require a much more ambitious Democratic commitment to reform of the political process.
Now, it’s always possible — as some leading progressives fear — that the Sanders movement may dissipate if he loses. It’s also possible that the Clinton campaign doesn’t think it really needs to administer special care and feeding to Sanders’s constituencies to win in November (though her top advisers have hinted otherwise), and may brush off Sanders’s demands. But as Ed Kilgore observes, this entails some risk, as frustration with the system among Sanders voters is white hot: “The Fury of the Bern is in some danger of getting out of control.”
It’s not clear yet if the Clinton camp sees any need to acknowledge the Sanders phenomenon as a genuine movement or a need to speak more directly to the broad desire for fundamental reform that Sanders has unleashed, in order to unite the party. But if Clinton-world does see these as imperatives, Jane Sanders has hinted at a way such unifying conversations might begin to unfold.