As results from Super Tuesday poured in last night, the media narrative began to hold that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the night’s biggest winners and would, eventually, square off against one another in the general election. While there’s plenty of reason to believe this will be the case, the media’s horse race-style coverage of the primaries leaves important aspects of the story untold.
Much of the media’s biased narrative has the danger of being self-fulfilling. Economist and political commentator Robert Reich expressed this point articulately in a Facebook post, writing, “The ‘momentum’ theory of politics is based on momentum stories the media itself generates. Don’t succumb to the ‘momentum’ game. Regardless of what happens today, this race is still very much alive.”
This point was amply demonstrated two weeks ago in Nevada, where Sanders lost by only five percentage points. Unfortunately this translated into five whole delegates. Still, it was by no means a knockout punch; in fact, Clinton underperformed there based on campaign expectations. Yet the media’s sensationalist coverage of presidential politics declared Nevada a major loss. By that baseless declaration the media undoubtedly did harm to the enthusiasm of some Sanders supporters.
So, too, is it the case with Super Tuesday. By no measure can it be said that Sanders performed above expectations, but he certainly hung on. Of the four states that were a real contest – Colorado, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Massachusetts – Sanders won three and he won them by wide margins.
Too much focus has also been placed on Massachusetts, a state many commentators argued Sanders needed to win in order to remain viable. In by far the tightest race of Super Tuesday, Sanders lost Massachusetts by less than 2 percentage points and won 43 delegates to Clinton’s 45. Mathematically, it’s not nearly as crushing a loss as it is in the reporting of the momentum-obsessed media.
Except for Massachusetts, the states Clinton won were Dixie states that are likely to vote Republican in the general election. It’s not good that Clinton won them by as wide of margins as she did, but none of these states were seriously contested by Sanders. Unfortunately Sanders still has a month or more of not-great primaries before he gets to states where he could presumably pick up big wins, like California, Wisconsin and Washington.
Sanders has pledged to remain in the race until the convention and his supporters shouldn’t abandon him now. At this point it’s hard to say things look good for him, but there is still a great deal of the race left to be run. And despite the media narrative his campaign has maintained its energy. In February Sanders raised $42 million; the day before Super Tuesday alone supporters pledged $6 million.
Even if Hillary Clinton continues racking up delegates and looks ever-more likely to be the nominee, Sanders staying in the race will keep the progressive wing of the Democratic Party active. It’s crucial that all the energy that’s gone into the political revolution so far doesn’t just dissipate into begrudging support for a hawkish, center-right New Democrat.
If the general election does come down to Clinton vs. Trump, it may be ripe for a third party. Astonishingly, the two people doing best in the primary elections have the lowest favorability ratings of any candidates. Trump is viewed unfavorably by 60 percent of the population; Clinton by 52 percent.
Sanders has maintained he wouldn’t run a third-party campaign against Clinton because he wouldn’t want to be responsible for a Republican presidency. But Sanders might spoil as much for Trump as he does Clinton. A surprising number of voters are undecided between Trump and Sanders. As they get more exposure to Sanders and realize that he, unlike Trump, is a serious candidate with viable prescriptions for America’s future, Sanders might suck away some of Trump’s supporters.
It’s extremely unlikely Sanders would run a third-party campaign if he loses the nomination, but he’s already laid the groundwork for a convincing third-party run. Any third-party candidate with a support base and name recognition – even Jesse Ventura, perhaps – could conceivably do very well in the general election. And a third-party option could provide a home for the hundreds of thousands who are so sick of the pro-Clinton billionaires, PACs, lobbyists and political-media establishment.
November 2016 could be developing into a nightmare. If Clinton is the nominee it will mean that the left-wing candidate, as Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir put it, “has supported every misbegotten foreign-policy misadventure of the last 30 years.” It also gives very little voice to those concerned with climate change and income inequality. But at least an organized, politically connected movement has emerged. And despite the media hype there’s no reason for that movement to give up on 2016 now.