The Democrats’ election nightmare

Some Democrats have a nightmare that takes them
back to Florida 16 years ago, and the time of the
‘hanging chads’.
It was the presidential election decided in that state by 537
votes after weeks of counting, amid arguments over the
ragged fragments of ballots not punched free in the voting
machines. Those pesky chads.
The villain of the nightmare is the old consumer and green
crusader Ralph Nader.
He persisted in his third party campaign through to
November, impervious to Democrat accusations of selfish
egocentricity, and got nearly 100,000 votes in Florida.
With less than one per cent of votes for Nader, cast
overwhelmingly by liberal-left voters, Al Gore would have
won the state for the Democrats, and vote in the state-by-
state electoral college.
President George W Bush would never have been.
The figure who hovers in this dream as a white-haired ghost
is of course, Bernie Sanders.
Might he be the spoiler for Hillary Clinton which gives
Donald Trump the White House?
‘Defeat Trump by defeating Clinton’
The fear of senior Democrats is not that he makes a Nader-
style independent run – it would make no sense at all – but
simply that he poisons the well, and has the same effect in
the end.
He’s not giving up, although mathematically his chance of
the nomination has gone.
He tells his huge rallies that the only way to defeat Trump is
to defeat Clinton, and many of his followers believe him. I
walked with a few hundred of them through San Diego.
‘Feel the Bern’
They were a mixture of hardcore liberals, students, cragged
hippies (wearing jeans that look as though they have seen
service in ’68), a man selling socialist pamphlets, and Aztec
dancers who were asked to bless the march, which they did
to a drumbeat that gave our microphone a few problems.
‘Feel the Bern!’ they cried.
It’s a movement, without doubt. Fired by the spirit of the
Occupy Wall Street campaign, and a belief that Hillary
Clinton is the child of a rotten establishment, they sing the
Sanders songs.
Hillary Clinton says race against Bernie Sanders is
US election: Sanders vows to fight on ‘until the last vote
is cast’
Bernie Sanders: ‘We must defeat Donald Trump’
US election: What will Clinton v Trump look like?
They are happy because, exactly like the Trump army on the
other side, they are an insurgency which has surprised
But it perplexes Democrats who know how tough it will be
when the campaign against Trump is truly joined.
Vice-chair of the California Democrats Eric Bauman told me
that on 95% of the important questions, Clinton and Sanders
held views that were nearly indistinguishable.
So why fight so hard and in increasingly fractious language?
California Senator and party elder Diane Feinstein has
warned that they “can’t afford a disruptive convention like
1968” (when anti war protestors were tear gassed in the
streets of Chicago).
She was speaking after a state convention in Nevada where
there was chair throwing in the course of a row about
delegate selection.
I spoke to Stephanie Miller, the liberal talk-show host and
comedienne who broadcasts from her home in the
Hollywood hills.
She said that Karl Rove, the master Republican strategist had
not bothered to turn his attention to Sanders yet.
“Imagine what he would do to a 73-year-old socialist Jew
from Vermont!” she tells me, in the midst of a passionate
assault on Trump, whom she described as “a racist, bigot
and misogynist” and someone who reminded her of Hitler.
‘Fight goes on’
Yet Bernie soldiers on. He addresses vast rallies and he is
tramping the valleys of California, scene of the last primary,
in the hope of inflicting a final, embarrassing (though
unlikely) defeat on Clinton, who’s having to fight him with
millions of dollars that she had hoped to keep for the
campaign proper against Trump.
The nomination is all but locked up, but the internal party
fight goes on.
Now, let’s be clear that most of the Sanders voters in the
primaries are bound to vote Democrat in November,
whatever their feelings about candidate Clinton.
But how many won’t?
And in supporting an increasingly sour Sanders attack on
her, how far will they help to fuel the feelings of undecided
voters who, for one reason or another stretching back 25
years, have never warmed to her?
‘Honk for Bernie’
His persistence is doing her damage, and some of it will last.
Such concerns seem far away to his supporters on the
streets of San Diego. They continue to ask drivers to ‘Honk
for Bernie.’
Some of them said cheerfully that they could never vote for
her. They would stay away on 1 November.
And who knows, the polls may tighten as Republicans rally
behind Trump, however reluctantly.
He’s already beginning to tailor his message to try to pull in
disaffected Democrats.
And if it works as it has done so far this year, some Sanders
supporters will find themselves in November with walk-on
parts in the Democrats’ nightmare.