The events of the past two weeks that culminated in the primary in New York have provided much needed clarity to the race on the democratic side. To be sure, a close result in New York (which it would have been had Sanders won) would have done little to alter the delegate math, but a loss for Clinton would have suggested that she was a weak frontrunner. In any case, what interested me more than the actual result of the primary were the events leading up to the primary and what it informed me about the candidates. Here are my three main takeaways:
1. Sanders is unprepared for the office he seeks. Sanders’ interview with the New York Daily News was very revealing. On issue after issue, he was unable to answer how he would accomplish what he promises in his stump speech, including breaking up the “too big to fail” banks, punishing corporations that move jobs overseas, and interrogation of enemy combatants. In several cases, he even admitted to not studying the issue deeply. Sanders wants a political revolution to usher him into office. But what happens the day after the revolution? How would he transform principle to policy? Throughout his campaign, Sanders has questioned Clinton’s sincerity to help Main Street because she is too closely tied to Wall Street. But what of Sanders’ sincerity? His proposals are already considered politically improbable. Within this context, his inability to provide a framework for how he would accomplish his goals demonstrates that he is not ready for the job he seeks. How is he better suited to help Main Street when he is not prepared?
2. Sanders’ speed date with the Pope. Throughout his campaign, Sanders has portrayed the impression that he does not pander, and will not bend to special interests, unlike his opponent who would say anything to get elected. Take for instance, Clinton’s changing views on the keystone pipeline, and the TPP. Yet, when confronted with the possibility of defeat, Sanders has done just that, i.e. pandered. The first time this was on display was when Sanders was courting the African-American vote in South Carolina. A memorable moment for me was during a town hall, when he awkwardly suggested that the senate was refusing to consider a supreme court nominee because of the color of Obama’s skin. Similarly, the unexpected detour to the Vatican two days before the must-win primary in New York, was a desperate move for a photo-op with the Pope. Sanders even “penned” this strange Op-ed in the Washington Post in which he annotated a previous speech given by Pope Francis. The Vatican quickly rebuffed these overtures, and said that there would be no meeting. In the end, the five-minute audience that Francis granted Sanders on his way to the airport made for good press, but I think for the Pope. It made him look like a polite man who while averse to political theater, also did not want to turn away a fan. While ultimately unimportant, these events did clarify that Sanders is ultimately an ambitious politician, and one who does what politicians do to win elections.
3. Hillary Clinton is “the establishment”. In 2016, “establishment” has become a dirty word. In a year, where candidates from both parties have vigorously tried to demonstrate their independence from Washington, Clinton has embraced it. First, she actually surrendered the more exciting “outsider”label to a candidate who has been part of Washington politics for longer than she has. She then hugged both Obama’s policy platforms and the democratic party tightly, and ran proudly as a democrat. It paid off. She locked in more than 10 times as many super delegates as Sanders has. The effects were on full display in New York. Both sitting senators of New York, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, endorsed her and campaigned for her. So did mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City. The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, was the warmup act for her victory speech after the primary. The message was clear here – the democratic party wants her to be the nominee. One may wish that the party would have wanted someone else. But one can also be sure that if she became president, democratic officials throughout the country will have her back. It is hard to imagine that Sanders doesn’t “Bern” a little because of the support she enjoys. But will she succeed in utilizing that support to govern effectively?
The result in New York further solidified Hillary Clinton’s status as the presumptive democratic nominee for president. With her current support among superdelegates, she could win the nomination without winning any of the remaining contests. The question for Sanders now is what does he want his candidacy to mean?