Late May has been rife with stories of division among the Democrats, while Republicans slowly, albeit sometimes reluctantly, form around their presumptive nominee Donald Trump. This flipping of the two party narrative has caused alarm bells to ring among those who detest the prospect of a *gulp* President Trump.
The democratic socialist Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, has surpassed all expectations, and won impressive victories over Hillary Clinton in Oregon, Indiana and West Virginia during May. Unfortunately, for the Sanders’ campaign, this is too little, too late: Hillary Clinton’s ability to win large states in the south, Midwest and north east have already effectively sewn up the nomination. The only realistic way for Sanders to win now is with California, and even in the most populous state in the union he would need a victory of over 65% of the vote, and for superdelegates to then read the tea leaves and flock to his progressive banners.
Instead, Hillary currently leads California polling by around 10% and polls in the Democratic race have been relatively accurate.
So barring some monumental change, Hillary Clinton will have the Democratic nomination by June 7th. Yet discord and division seemingly run through Democratic ranks, with many of Bernie Sanders most passionate supporters aggressively resisting calls to unify around the former Secretary of State. The resistance of the Clinton nomination is most passionately displayed in the ‘Bernie or Bust’ movement, a segment of Sanders’ support that claims they will refuse to coalesce around Hillary Clinton should she defeat Sanders.
A recent clash between Sanders’ supporters and party officials in Nevada, during which chairs were thrown, has crystallised the danger of the bubbling tension within the Democratic Party. The media has begun reporting on a flipping of narratives, where the Democrats are plagued by infighting, while the Never Trump movement is slowly suffocated of all political oxygen.
Bernie Sanders is determined to continue with his campaign, and rightly so: for the time being, the Senator is still able to shine a light on issues of crony capitalism and the excesses of Wall Street. Yet for all his protestations, there is the undeniable fact that Secretary Clinton has more votes, pledged delegates, superdelegates, states, and endorsements than Bernie Sanders. The phalanx of young Sanders advocates must, in time, accept that they simply have not won the democratic process of their party, regardless of superdelegates.
Once Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, the question of party unity will become paramount. Senator Sanders has claimed he will do all he can to prevent Donald Trump from entering the Oval Office; once his campaign is resolved and the simplicity of the Hillary vs Donald question becomes evident, this pledge will be put to the test. It would be a monumental upset if Senator Sanders did not endorse Hillary Clinton at this point.
Whether his supporters will rally to Hillary Clinton is another question. In a recent interview with CNN, Clinton recalled how 40% of her supporters in 2008 claimed they would not support Barack Obama after a bitter primary contest, but in the event that figure fell dramatically once the reality of the presidential election became apparent.
While Sanders’ most passionate core of support might seethe at this comparison, if the Senator does endorse Clinton then the vast bulk of his movement should swing towards her: the reality is the alternative is to passively enable Donald Trump. Whether Clinton would countenance a Sanders’ Vice Presidency is an intriguing question: previously it seemed almost impossible, but given the groundswell of anti-establishmentism in 2016, Clinton might not be so averse to building stronger bridges with Sanders’ cohort.
The reluctant (re)unification of the Republican Party around Donald Trump, barring a few notable hold-outs, has yielded several national polls that show a far closer Clinton-Trump contest than predicted. This is natural: Trump is receiving a bounce in polls due to, well, winning the nomination, and the number of notable Republican figures who are slowly getting on the Trump Train.
Meanwhile Hillary Clinton is mired in a contentious and prolonged primary with Bernie Sanders. Once the field clears, and it becomes clear Hillary Clinton is the only way to prevent Trump winning, polls may begin to reflect the a stronger position for the Democrats.
Though Hillary herself is plagued by high unfavourable ratings, though not as high as Mr Trump, she is aided by a number of prominent and popular campaign lieutenants: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and, theoretically, Bernie Sanders.
Former President Bill Clinton remains a relatively popular figure nationally, and could appeal to swing voters in southern states like North Carolina, while Elizabeth Warren offers the potential to galvanise the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Senator Warren has already begun attacking Donald Trump on Twitter, and looks likely to be a vocal participant in the upcoming election, driving for a high turnout of progressives despite their distaste for Hillary Clinton.
Bernie Sanders, should he decide to join Team Clinton for the greater good of stopping Trump, would be an integral part of reaching out to young voters and ensuring a high turnout among millennials. Though there are theories that disaffected Bernie supporters might defect to Trump, Bernie’s stern opposition to Donald Trump would help bring scores of voters to the Democratic cause.
However, Clinton’s ace in the hole might just be her former competitor, President Obama, as well as his wife Michelle. Obama’s approval rating has breached 50%, higher than Ronald Reagan in his final year in office, potentially as Americans consider their options in the upcoming election and look on the incumbent with more forgiving eyes.
Michelle Obama, on the other hand, enjoys a sky high 66% approval rating, though of course she may not wish to play as active a role in the upcoming election. Undoubtedly, Barack and Michelle would be of little use regarding breaking the hard core of Trump loyalists, however when they publicly show their support of Hillary it is very possible that her own unfavourability numbers will drop through association.
For all of Hillary Clinton’s shortfalls as a campaigner, she is readying a team of strength that can bounce back in polls come July. Furthermore, the demographic and geographic map still strongly favours the Democrats, despite recent headlines and polls. That said, much rests on Bernie Sanders’ decision: division and unification of the party will in no small part rely on his decision after his campaign is over, and the Trump challenge will be much stronger than previously anticipated.
In the mean time, Sanders is more than entitled to run out his campaign as he sees fit, and the Democratic Party should not become overly concerned with Clinton-Trump poll numbers. The election will be bitter, and hard fought, but once a Democratic nominee is established, they will be more than ready to take on Donald Trump and a Republican Party that has far greater real division currently being papered over for the sake of political expediency and fear of losing the Supreme Court.