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The Socialist David versus the Establishment Goliath


In spite of all the handicaps that the Democrat machinery has thrown towards Bernie Sanders, the latter has managed to stay afloat, and how
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: April 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : CNN Poll | Hillary Clinton | Donald Trump | GOP | Ted Cruz | Marco Rubio | Bernie Sanders |

There is something about the election system of the United States that leaves you bewildered. Not the wow-it’s-the-real-democracy kind of bewilderment. It's more the exasperated kind.

Sample this. According to a CNN poll done in the first week of March 2016, the front runners of both the Democratic Party and Republican Party primaries, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump respectively, are also the two of the most hated candidates in their constituencies. While Hillary Clinton has a 42-55% favourable-unfavourable rating, the very colourful Donald Trump languishes at the corresponding figure of 37-60%. That’s among the national electorate. Not surprisingly, they also have less than 50 percent acceptability in their respective electorates as well. And yet, there is a more than ever chance that these two will have the final showdown for the post of the next head of the lone superpower in the world (discounting Russia, which is dealing with its own economic stability issues).

The only candidate in the race, Democrats and Republicans included, who has more than 50 percent acceptability is Senator Bernie Sanders. And there is a solid chance that he might not even get the nomination after all.

In the GOP, the situation is only slightly different. The Republican bandwagon absolutely abhors Donal Trump and considers him an outsider, which he no doubt is. But he has electrified the Republican voters and they are coming out in droves to vote for him. The GOP machinery’s darling candidates like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio does not know how to reverse the tie, and are mostly dependent on mistakes made by Trump to pull him down. There is no offensive strategy. That’s so un-GOP like at so many levels.

So what does the primaries and caucuses held till now say about the race. First the facts. Democrats have the system of Pledged and Unpledged (Also called Super-delegates), who make their choices while the primaries are on, but can change their allegiance anytime till the day of Democratic National Convention where the final candidature is decided.

The number that actually matters is the number of pledged delegates. Hillary Clinton, as of now, has 672 to Bernie Sanders’ 477 pledged ones. That’s closer than it appears.

It is the unpledged or super-delegates that tips the balance. These delegates, generally state party leaders and officials, are free to support any candidate. Of the 470 unpledged ones, as many as 458 have till now decided to side with Hillary to a piffling 22 for Senator Sanders. But this is deceptive. For example in 2008 also, Clinton commanded a large number of super-delegates who eventually didn't vote for her at the DNC and jumped to the Obama bandwagon.
Among Republicans, there’s no such confusion till now. Of those left in the contention, Donal Tump leads with 384 delegates, followed closely by Ted Cruz with 300 delegates and Marco Rubio with 151 in his kitty. But there’s a catch here too. Of the states going for polls from March 15th onwards, quite a few of them have the system of ‘Winner takes all,’ which awards every single delegate from the state to the winner, rather than dividing them on proportional vote. Consequently, Republican race is expected to close earlier than the Democrat race this time around.
What is also different is the way the machinery of both the parties are treating their leading candidates. Democratic Party machinery does not even make an attempt to hide its bias towards Hillary Clinton. For them, Sanders is an outsider and needs to be stopped in his track.
The first thing that they did was to reduce the number of debates to a quarter of what it used to be earlier. Debates are very important for the candidates who are less on funds or are not supported by big corporations. Debates are their way of getting publicity or at least visibility. By denying that to Sanders, Democratic machinery exposed itself badly.

On the other hand, the GOP machinery considers Trump to be an antithesis of everything Republican. In ways more than one, Trump is that Frankenstein monster that got out of hand. When everything else failed to stop the rise of Donald Trump, the Fox News storm-troopers was put to service.
Trump, always eager to walk into a trap, engaged horribly with Fox News anchor Megan Kelly and further alienated the Republican machinery. Anyone else would have crumbled under such pressure, not Donald Trump. He has made a virtue out of his boorishness and cultivated the equally boorish new ‘Tea-Party’ type of voters, who had no respect for anything, including the Republican Party machinery that had propped them up at the first place.           
As far as the final face off is concerned, political pundits are deeply divided over who among the Democratic aspirants can actually take on Trump, provided he bags the GOP ticket.

Bernie Sanders has managed to bring in huge turnouts for his public addresses, a phenomenon that is prevalent almost across the country. There is no doubt that he has won new converts by confirming to the liberal ethos of the young Americans. This in turn has generated substantial momentum for him. However, it appears that those who turn up at his rallies do not necessarily turn up at the primaries. The working class Whites, a constituency that should have lapped up Sanders’ Socialist message, has actually rallied for Donald Trump. The sheer talent of the poor Whites to keep rooting for their oppressors has never failed to amazed journalists and pundits alike. Some of the poorest White dominated counties in the United States are rock-solid Republican counties.
Sanders, while gaining on the liberal White voters, has lagged behind on Black Democrats, who have been overwhelmingly flocking towards Hillary Clinton.
“Trump is getting a huge voter turnout, while Hillary is getting a weak one. Whites who didn't vote in the past voted for Trump, while many Blacks, Hispanics, who voted for Obama didn't vote for Hillary. If this repeats itself in the general election, Trump could win. Good news is that the negative campaign against Trump hasn't begun, and Trump should energize the vote for Hillary,” says noted political commentator Larry Derfner.

But things are not as rosy for Clinton as well, as it appears at the first look. There is no doubt that Clinton will win the deep Red states, which will be won by Republicans in the final face off. She is going to win every single one of them in the primaries. However, since Democrats don't have a chance at all of getting anything from those states in the final face off, the focus shifts towards the deep Blue and Swing states, where Sanders appear to be finding better traction than Hillary Clinton. Some of the erstwhile Red states that are set to turn into swing states at any excuse are also rooting for Sanders.
In such states that matter, Sanders won by a large margin in four and Hillary in only two. The rest were ties. Sanders supporters swear that he is winning a large section of independent voters who are sick of what they otherwise see as a “fixed-match” between Republicans and the Democrats.
Sceptics, on the other hand, maintain that Sanders would be too Red (or rather Pink) for the taste of “Middle America” to actually win the game. Generations brainwashed over the fear of creeping Communism will panic and vote for anyone willing to stop the so-called "Communisation of America". In this case, Donald Trump.

Unlike the Republican race, Democrat contenders will have time till the end of May 2016. Bernie Sanders is actually banking on the coastal states that will have their primaries in the fall.

Till then, all he needs to do is to keep the momentum going and convince his small donors that he has what it takes to beat the big-corporations' backed Hillary Clinton. At the end, it is mostly about managing perception. Sanders will also have to convince the voters that his final candidacy can sufficiently energise the masses to come out and vote for him. Failing which, not only will he lose the initiative this time, but considering his relatively advanced age, he might have to say goodbye forever.

Bernie Sanders realises the gravity of situation more than anyone else, and appears to be changing tactic midstream. How much will that work is anybody’s guess. What is beyond guess is that he has already given Hillary Clinton a run for her money.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017