Do All of Bernie’s Voters Want Him to Win?

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Bernie Sanders Holds Campaign Rally In Binghamton, NY
Hard to win when some of your supporters really just want to keep your opponent honest. Photo: Brett Carlsen/2016 Getty Images

When running for mayor of New York on the Conservative Party ballot line in 1965, William F. Buckley was asked the usual question about what he’d do first upon learning he had won. “Demand a recount!” he quickly replied. That’s not characteristic of too many politicians. But you do have to wonder occasionally if it’s true of voters who cast ballots for candidates for reasons other than the desire to see them win. 

That thought arises from reading a column by the renowned liberal journalist John Judis at Talking Points Memo today:

Why vote for him at all, then? For me, it’s entirely about the issues he is raising, which I believe are important for the country’s future.

This is a sentiment heard often in casual conversations with Democrats before and immediately prior to this year’s nomination contests. Before Bernie Sanders threw a genuine scare into Team Hillary, the formulation was often “We need Bernie [or before that, Elizabeth Warren] to run to keep Hillary honest.” By that it was inferred that without some pressure from the port side of the Democratic Party, Clinton might indulge the family habit of leaning a bit too far starboard to suit “the base” or the activists purporting to speak for said base. Left unsaid (though it is articulated by Judis) is the belief that Clinton is a far better bet to make sure Republicans don’t make away with the White House while Democrats are arguing over what to do with it. 

Nowadays Team Sanders is far more aggressive than Team Clinton in arguing its champion is more “electable,” brandishing reams of general-election trial heats showing so. And they are right to do so, because primary exit polls consistently show voters concerned about electability are heavily tilting toward Hillary. After all, you don’t need a political-science degree to suspect that a 75-year-old self-styled democratic socialist with a Senate voting record a bit to the left of tofu is going to get Dukakised to death after a good, vicious billion-dollar Republican general-election ad campaign. That makes you wonder how many Hillary voters there are who’d pull the lever for Sanders if they really thought he could win the general election. And it also makes you wonder exactly how many Sanders voters like Judis don’t really want him to win the nomination because they don’t think he can win the general election — or want to fence in Clinton ideologically because they think she can.