Nice guys finish last, the saying goes. While Sen. Bernie Sanders probably won’t finish last in the race for the Democratic nomination, he won’t finish first, which amounts to pretty much the same thing in a winner-take-all heat. According to the Real Clear Politics rolling averages for October, front-runner Hillary Clinton has solidified her lead, putting daylight between herself and Sanders, whose second-place numbers have remained more-or-less static.
In part, the reason for the rise in Clinton’s poll numbers is her showing in the first Democratic debate. Most analysts agree Clinton won the evening, thanks to some extent to Sanders’s chivalrous dismissal of the very real scandal involving Clinton’s private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. When Sanders turned to Clinton at the adjacent podium and announced that that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damned emails,” he prefaced his remark by acknowledging that what he was about to say “may not be great politics.” Few would disagree with his self-assessment, especially Hillary, who rewarded it with an awkward handshake.
So how is Sanders handling the new reality of Clinton’s dust? Annie Karni and Glenn Thrush write at Politico that “Saturday night, at the high-stakes Democratic Jefferson-Jackson dinner, the Vermont senator launched a new, frontal attack on Clinton’s record, caution and character — a direct response to her recent surge in the polls here and nationally.” A surge that he helped orchestrate.
The Vermont senator, as always, did not go after the front-runner in a personal way or mention her by name. Instead, he delivered a fiery yet indirect indictment of her entire political career. In his 25-minute speech — backed up by the thundering chants of supporters chanting “Feel the Bern!” — he attacked Clinton’s slowness to take a position on the Keystone pipeline: “This was not a complicated issue,” he said. He lambasted her for now opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she once called the “gold standard” of trade deals.
I don’t know that Sanders ever had a realistic chance of winning the Democratic nomination; the party may have moved left in recent years, but it’s doubtful they are ready to back an overtly self-avowed socialist.
But no matter: The die is cast. The headlines in the last few days have returned to talk not only of a “Clinton’s coronation” but of the inevitability of her becoming the next president.
As for Sanders, he is too old to learn new tricks and is far past the age when he read bedtime stories, but he may want to re-familiarize himself with the fable of the frog and the scorpion.