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Bernie Sanders isn't Hillary Clinton's worst nightmare. He probably doesn't even crack the top five on Hillary's watch list. (I'm pretty sure it's Elizabeth Warren who keeps people awake at night Clintonland. Though, just for kicks, imagine what would happen if Michelle Obama decided to run. Do you think there's any chance Hillary could beat Michelle? Me neither.)
Nonetheless, as my friend Ben Domenech puts it, 'Bernie Sanders is a thing that is happening." Two polls have him within 12 points of Clinton in New Hampshire. He's starting to inch upward in Iowa. And if Martin O'Malley doesn't catch on and nobody else enters the race this summer, then there's no reason the anti-Clinton vote-which seems to be at least 35 percent of the Democratic electorate-couldn't coalesce around Sanders. At which point we'll have a 16-week sprint to the Iowa caucuses with Clinton nursing a small double-digit lead. And all of a sudden it will be like that scene in The Hangover 2 with everyone asking, dear Lord, could this happen again?
The answer is: Probably not. As Domenech argues, 'It can't happen. The Clintons won't let it. Sanders can't actually win because the Clinton machine would nuke him from orbit if he got to close, which they can do because he's an old white socialist."
This strikes me as pretty much right. Sanders keeps telling people that "this is not a protest campaign," but that's simply false. Would Sanders be running if Elizabeth Warren and Deval Patrick and Joe Biden had all declared candidacies? I very much doubt it. To the extent that his campaign has any life it's precisely because it is being waged as a protest against a dynastic candidate, who is untrusted by the Democratic base, and who is running more or less unopposed and with the blessing of the party establishment.
And a protest campaign presents the Clinton machine with a whole different set of problems than it was anticipating. It's asymmetric warfare: Clinton can't engage with Sanders without elevating him. She can't keep running to his left without mortgaging her general election prospects. And she really doesn't want to nuke him from orbit if she can possibly avoid it, because she's going to need his lefty-activist supporters to show up for her next November because she has clearly decided to wage a base-turnout election, rather than making a play for independent voters.
A Sanders surge creates the possibility-however small-that Clinton could lose either Iowa or New Hampshire (or even both) and have to sit there and take her lumps while waiting for the weight of her organization to crush the old socialist in February as the campaign moves south. At which point she runs the risk of becoming Hubert Humphrey, so damaged by Eugene McCarthy that her weakness is fatally exposed for the general.
Which raises, for Republicans, the best possible prospect: Zombie Hillary!
(More down below.)
A few months back, I was dining with a friend at an Armenian restaurant in Beirut, and at the end of the meal he gracefully sidestepped the Turkish question by ordering a 'Byzantine" coffee. The waiter laughed grimly. 'Aside from coffee and waterpipes," asked my friend, 'what did the Turks leave us? They were here for 500 years, and they didn't even leave us their language. We speak Arabic, French, and English. No one speaks Turkish. Their most important political institutions were baksheesh and the khazouk." Baksheesh is bribery, and the khazouk is a spike driven through its victim's rectum, which the Ottomans used to terrify locals and deter potential insurgents. The Ottomans were hated here and throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East, not only by the regional minorities (Christians, Jews, Shia, etc.) but also by their Sunni Arab coreligionists. All felt the heavy yoke of the Sublime Porte.
In the last few weeks, however, half a millennium's worth of history has been conveniently forgotten, perhaps even forgiven, as Turkey has emerged as a regional power and the guarantor of Arab interests_against Israel, to be sure, but more importantly against Iran.
'[A]dherence to 'reality' is supposed to be fundamental to the progressive way. Throw it out, and where, exactly, do you draw the line? For a conservative, wacky religious claims are limited by competing values of respect for tradition, authority, and order. The modern left rejects those limitations as roadblocks to the betterment of humanity. So if you take away the limitation of objective reality, where do you stop?
'The fact that progressives find these kinds of questions so self-evidently preposterous as to constitute bad-faith arguments does not render them invalid. Rachel Dolezal's actions have been profoundly unhelpful to the left ...
'Rachel Dolezal is a perfect demonstration_here is a woman who is making a claim that is at odds with rude, objective fact. So what is the bright-line principle that separates her from Caitlyn Jenner?
'This is a serious question: If you have no neutral basis for adjudicating between competing parties, disputes can only be settled with fists and blood and bullets_figuratively at first; literally, if things get out of hand. And ultimately, that means all questions are ultimately settled in favor of the strong. The weak have no voice, no way to appeal, no hope apart from the whims and mercies of the mighty."
So imagine a world in which Bernie Sanders wounds Hillary Clinton. It's mid-January 2016, Sanders comes very close in Iowa and then wins New Hampshire. (Or vice versa.) Clinton looks good in North Carolina and South Carolina, but Nevada is nip and tuck. And-most worrisome-the prospective match-up polls begin to show Clinton losing to a host of Republicans, including Jeb, Rubio, and Walker. There would be, as Fred Barnes pointed out a few weeks back, a Democratic panic.
But what could Democrats do? They could try to convince Joe Biden to jump in as a white knight. (Trigger warning?) But by February 2016, getting Democrats out of the Hillary Clinton business would probably require consent on Clinton's part. And if there's one thing we've learned about Hillary Clinton over the years, it's that she never backs down.
Not when the press went after her for Travelgate. Not when the House of Representatives was drafting articles of impeachment against her husband. Not when she was clearly losing the 2008 nomination. Not when she was being investigated for Whitewater, or Benghazi, or State Department emails, or ... well, you get the idea.
Like a zombie, Hillary keeps coming. Relentlessly. Remorselessly. It doesn't matter how damaged she is or how ridiculous she looks in whatever position she's taken.
So no, Bernie Sanders probably can't win enough delegates to deny Clinton the nomination. But by driving her to the left, alienating her from the Democrats' activist base, and showing that she can be beaten, he could turn her into a zombie candidate who takes for granted the 46 percent (or so) of the vote she has as a floor, but is never able to add to it.
That's pretty attractive scenario for Republicans. Except, of course, that it might not come to pass. And that even if it does, sometimes the zombies win.
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