What Might Have Been

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John Wagner has a nice piece in the Post today about the missed opportunities of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, now that we are reaching the end of the primary process. While all along Hillary Clinton’s eventual win seemed inevitable, looking back now, it’s clear that it wasn’t, or at least not as much so as we thought at the time. My sense is that Sanders ran a really good campaign, but he needed to be near perfect. As Wagner points out, he wasn’t – for me, the key weakness was the inability to connect with minority voters in key early states 

According to interviews with the candidate, his advisers, allies and other Democrats, Sanders fell short because of missed opportunities, a failure to connect with key constituencies and stubborn strategy decisions.

Perhaps the campaign’s biggest mistake was not realizing early on that Sanders could win. That led to a slow start, both in building the infrastructure needed to run a national campaign and in Sanders’s own presence among voters who knew little about him.

“I don’t think anybody had figured out how to win when we got in,” said senior strategist Tad Devine. “It was, ‘How do we become credible?’ ”

As it became clear that Sanders was gaining credibility, though, he struggled to connect with black and Latino voters, as well as with older Democrats, groups that carried Clinton’s candidacy. Sanders repeatedly clashed with another vital constituency — the party leaders whose votes as superdelegates he would ultimately need to pry the nomination away from Clinton.

Sanders also overestimated the power of his economic message and, adamant that he run the kind of positive campaign that had been his trademark in Vermont, initially underestimated the imperative to draw sharp contrasts with Clinton.

“His economic message has been pretty powerful — so powerful that you feel elements in what Hillary is saying now,” said David Axelrod, chief strategist on President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

But, he said, “there’s a story about this old blues player, Papa John Creach. One guy says, ‘He has only one riff,’ and his friend goes, ‘But it’s a great riff.’

“Bernie is Papa John Creach,” Axelrod continued. “He’s got a great riff but doesn’t have a lot of variety.”

Read the rest, it’s a very good and insightful article, with quotes mainly from key Sanders allies and even the candidate himself. 

Not discussed by Wagner, but for me the key question facing Sanders: how does he pivot from upstart outsider to team player, with the common goal of winning the general election? How these questions get answered in the next two months will be a huge (pun intended) factor determining the long-term impact of the Sanders campaign and its ideas. Here’s hoping for a smooth and soft landing. As a Democrat, however, I’m also a realist. So I’m prepared for more than a little bit of turbulence – I’ll settle for landing the plane in one piece. 

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