Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) deserves every accolade and attaboy he seeks from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Party as he ponders ending his quest for its presidential nomination. His win of 22 states was powered by a “political revolution” of overwhelming support by young people and others among the reported “1.5 million people [who attended] his rallies and a record 8.2 million individual contributions from about 2.5 million donors.” Their demands of the party must be taken seriously. But they must also be grounded in reality. And at least one of them is completely unmoored from it.
“We need real electoral reform within the Democratic Party. And that means — among many, many other things — open primaries,” Sanders said on Tuesday in Washington. “The idea that in the state of New York, the great state of New York, 3 million people could not participate in helping to select who the Democratic or Republican candidate for president would be because they had registered as an independent not as a Democrat or a Republican is incomprehensible.”
Sanders is absolutely right — and completely wrong.
That only Democrats could vote in New York’s Democratic primary is not the fault of the party or its embattled chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). The responsibility lies with state government. If Sanders is truly serious about this demand, he needs to march his political revolution up to Albany and every other capital of a state that doesn’t allow open primaries. The same must be done for his call for same-day registration.
As Nate Cohn of the New York Times wrote Thursday, “Sanders is barking up the wrong tree.” But there’s another tree he should be howling at. His own campaign.
Anyone worth their salt in New York politics, especially an Empire State Democrat, knows that you must be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary.
When I was starting my journalism career in Manhattan, one of the questions I faced was whether to register as an independent or a Democrat. Most reporters I know chose independent to more fully bolster their duty to objectivity. I registered as a Democrat because I wanted to have a voice in whom my elected officials should be, especially since the overwhelming Democratic majority in New York City and State meant that primaries were tantamount to general elections.
Tens of thousands swarmed Sanders’s campaign rallies around New York City in the run-up to the April 19 New York primary. It was an impressive sight. But the 16-point blowout suffered by Sanders might have been a lot less against home-state Hillary had his ground game included a concerted effort to ensure that his supporters were registered as Democrats in time to vote in the primary. The same might be said of California, where folks who registered to vote but didn’t state a political party preference had to specifically request a Democratic Party ballot at their polling place.
Demanding that the DNC change rules in those states reveals a fundamental ignorance of the electoral process as a whole. But it also reveals ever more clearly that the democratic socialist isn’t a Democrat.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj