Hillary Is Winning the Nomination, Bernie Is Winning the Party

Initial thoughts on Super Tuesday: Democrats.  Feasting on a map that played to her strength with voters of color, Hillary Clinton surged ahead in the delegate count on Super Tuesday and moved into a commanding position in the race for the Democratic nomination.  Her big victory was expected following her outsized win in South Carolina. She swept through the South like a tornado, winning in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia by margins of 30-40 points. Bernie Sanders contested five states and won four, losing narrowly in Massachusetts.  With 70% of the delegates still to be selected, Sanders performed well enough to continue to challenge Clinton, even as Clinton pivots to a general election footing by taking aim at Donald Trump rather than Sanders. But Sanders is a movement candidate running a campaign to change the political process, and on that score his performance tonight should be understood in more than horserace terms.

Sanders has defined the contours of the race with his clear messaging about economic inequality, and the longer he runs the more he will exert a gravitational pull on Clinton and the Democratic Party. Before the February 4th debate, can anyone seriously remember the last time two leading presidential candidates argued over who was a better progressive? Hillary may not have convinced Bernie’s supporters that she is as committed as he to reining in the abuses of Wall Street, but there they both were embracing the progressive label. This is pre-Reagan era talk, from before a time when liberal was an epithet, and it speaks to a longterm and fundamental shift in the Democratic Party brought to the surface by the Sanders campaign. In state after state, a larger share of Democratic primary voters report being liberal or very liberal compared with eight years ago. Exit polls suggest that trend continued in every state tonight.  It is only a matter of time before a majority of Democrats are self-described liberals.

Should Clinton become the nominee and try to consolidate the party for a fall run, she will need to figure out how to appeal to the energized voters Sanders has turned out. This remains at best a work in progress. So we should watch how Sanders conducts his campaign from this point on, and whether his continued presence helps Clinton learn how to speak to a base that looks little like it did in the 1990s. It may or may not turn out to be Sanders’ year, but he is leaving a lasting mark on the Democratic Party.