Thanks to The Associated Press, I was awake well past midnight on Wednesday morning watching a series of non-events come to a grateful conclusion. I wanted to see the speeches, especially Bernie’s, which came after 1:00 am; they were the one thing the “news” media couldn’t screw up. How did Tuesday’s primaries become non-events? Because The Associated Press on Monday night, straight out of the blue, declared Secretary Clinton to be the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.
Wait, what? Yeah, they did that. They polled a bunch of Democratic Party elites — “superdelegates” — and decided Clinton had enough delegates to call it a day. The margin? One delegate. Five primaries and a caucus that would have decided the race fair and square 24 hours later got tossed into the dustbin because the AP wanted the hot take, the big scoop, and in doing so broke a cardinal rule of journalism: They became the story instead of reporting the story.
The “news” media’s reaction to that declaration was like tossing a live hand grenade into a hedge filled with chickadees: lots of squawking and flapping and smoke and a ringing in the ears from the explosion. All the AP had to do was wait a day. They didn’t, and it was a mess. Beyond the impact on the presidential side, there are the down-ticket races to consider. The AP’s little wingding certainly depressed voter turnout across the board — exactly 354 people voted in the North Dakota Democratic caucus on Tuesday — and that depressed turnout affected down-ticket races all over the country.
Sanders supporters by and large have been reading the writing on the wall for a while. All they wanted was the opportunity to die on their feet, to take it to the end and let the chips fall. Now? They’re pissed and feeling cheated. We’re deciding nominees through polls of party elites? It was as undemocratic an act as I have ever witnessed after Bush v. Gore and the shenanigans in Ohio in 2004, and there will be consequences down the line, especially for Clinton. Good luck bringing Bernie’s folks into the fold for the big push to November after that crud. It was disgraceful.
The facts: Hillary Clinton won the big brass bookends — New Jersey and California — by dominant margins. She also did well in the middle, taking New Mexico and South Dakota. Senator Sanders took Montana and North Dakota, but the delegate math leading him to the nomination is grim and all but final. There is no there, there. AP or no AP, Clinton got her Philadelphia ticket punched on Tuesday.
Bernie Sanders flew home Wednesday with his senior campaign advisers to consider their options. He is holding to his vow to stay in until the convention. It may only be a bargaining tactic to wring platform and convention concessions from the Clinton campaign, but it may very well be something else entirely: conviction.
When he finally took the podium on Wednesday morning, the roar of the crowd rose to a beam-rattling crescendo that lasted many long minutes; they wouldn’t let the man speak because they just wanted to cheer his presence and all he has accomplished to date. When he did speak, his words were fire.
“I am pretty good at arithmetic,” he said, “and I know that the fight in front of us is a very, very steep fight, but we will continue to fight for every vote and every delegate we can get. Our fight is to transform our country and to understand that we are in this together. To understand that all of what we believe is what the majority of the American people believe. And to understand that the struggle continues.”
Take that, Associated Press.
And then there is “The Donald,” who just came out of one of the more remarkably gruesome weeks in the history of US politics. Sen. Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, rescinded his endorsement of Trump. Former GOP presidential candidate Lindsey Graham was actively cajoling his fellow Republicans to take back their endorsements as well, and Sen. Mitch McConnell warned Trump to get his act together and become a serious candidate. The McConnell statement was the most ominous of all for Trump, because McConnell is the most cautious turtle in politics; he says nothing unless he has a large crew backing him, so by saying what he said, he was telegraphing to Trump that the whole GOP Senate caucus was ready to drop him like third-period French.
Trump got the memo. His campaign broke out the teleprompters he has so often disdained, and he gave a calm, measured (for him) speech on Tuesday night with his glass-eyed Stepford family behind him in an attempt to calm the waters. No wild waving of the little hands, no spittle-flecked invective; he looked in his blue suit coat like a prep school freshman who had been called on the carpet by the headmaster. Will it work? Can he hold it together until November? Don’t bet on it. Sooner or later, someone will poke him with a stick and he’ll go off like Vesuvius and bury the GOP’s Pompeii in hot ash. This is Mt. Trump we’re talking about, after all.
The rest is aftermath. What can easily be described as the most bizarre, damaging and inspiring primary season in living memory has been capstoned by The Associated Press getting into the coronation business, a fitting end to this long, strange trip. The story line, however, also includes Bernie Sanders, one of the most inspirational and galvanizing figures to grace electoral politics in a very long time. It is to be devoutly hoped that the millions he has moved will keep moving — win, lose or draw — and continue working to improve this nation which desperately needs his voice, and theirs.
So. The presumptive nominees for the two major parties are among the most singularly despised people on the North American continent. One makes terrible decisions as a matter of course, and the other has no ideas whatsoever beyond a fictional notion of his own greatness. The “news” media got the race it wanted.
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