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This week saw the most annoying political fight on Twitter start up all over again: the one about the relitigation of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. As Texas’ abortion ban went into effect, extremely online liberals chose not to blame themselves for failing to take out Governor Greg Abbott in 2018 when he was up for reelection, and not to blame the Texas Democratic Party for losing Latino voters in the Rio Grande Valley to Donald Trump because of lackluster outreach and a bad message. No, they once again chose to blame supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 primary challenge against Hillary Clinton.
It’s an easy line of attack, particularly as some of Sanders’ biggest supporters openly shouted the slogan “Bernie or Bust.” The hard feelings are compounded by the fact Democrats lost to Donald Trump, who in turn got to appoint three Supreme Court Justices — Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — who joined with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in deciding against an emergency appeal on the Texas law.
Losing campaigns are never fun and it’s easy to point fingers in the aftermath, especially when the consequences reverberate throughout the country. But the data does not bear this out. There are plenty of people to blame for the Supreme Court’s actions and Texas passing this legislation, but Bernie Sanders and his supporters are far from the top of the list.
First, a study from a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2017 found that roughly one in ten Sanders supporters voted for Trump. That same study found that most Sanders-Trump supporters were not Democrats, whereas most Sanders-Clinton supporters were Democrats — so it is extremely unlikely that all of those voters would have pulled the lever for her come November 2016. If anything, it shows Sanders had a false sense of Democratic hunger for a Clinton alternative.
Comparatively, depending on the study you read, roughly 24 or 25 percent of all people who voted for Clinton in 2008’s Democratic primary voted for John McCain rather than Barack Obama. However, there have been far more bitter primaries in the past, including those between Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush (who became running-mates in the general election) or or Clinton and Obama (who made her his first Secretary of State.) Lest we forget, Bob Dole — also running against Bush — told him to “stop lying about my record” in a heated exchange in 1988.
Clinton’s most diehard supporters might feel slighted that Sanders made a contest out of what was supposed to be a coronation and Sanders was undoubtedly out of line when he said the person who would have been the first woman president was not “unqualified.” But this is more about bitter primary feelings than it is about how many Sanders supporters would have backed Clinton in actuality.
Furthermore, the number of Sanders-Trump voters is minuscule compared to the number of people who voted for Obama in 2012 and then voted to Make America Great Again in 2016. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics estimated there were roughly 8.4 million Obama-Trump voters. In Wisconsin, where Trump became the first Republican since Reagan to win the state, 22 counties voted for Trump that had previously voted for Obama. Iowa had 31 counties flip. But Obama-Trump voters don’t provoke the same kind of anger because they don’t allow people to rehash their petty personal feuds.
The Texas Democratic Party also deserves plenty of blame for self-inflicted wounds that allowed for Republicans to dominate. In 2018, Beto O’Rourke got within striking distance of defeating Ted Cruz and Democrats flipped two House seats. But Texas Democrats fielded a weak candidate in Lupe Valdez, whom Abbott beat by double digits on election night just two years after Clinton got within single digits of Trump in the state.
Texas Democrats had another opportunity to stop the abortion bill last year when they had a legitimate shot to flip the Texas statehouse. But instead, as Texas Monthly noted when it anointed the party its dubious 2021 Bum Steer of the Year award, Democrats targeted 22 seats when they only needed to flip 9 and they absolutely flopped. Furthermore, Texas Democrats’ poor message and lackluster campaigning cost the party Latino voters, which is a death sentence in the state.
Despite Texas Democrats’ continued preening and making a trip to Washington to fight Republican voter laws, the party has consistently failed to field a qualified candidate. By comparison, the Florida Democratic Party, which loses probably as much as its Texas counterparts do, has two credible Democratic candidates running to challenge Ron DeSantis in 2022.
Given the makeup of the Supreme Court and the fact that it ruled only 5 to 4 while Roberts sided with liberals, many are probably rueing the fact then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rammed Barrett’s nomination through the Senate right before the election, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s body wasn’t even cold. But for all of Ginsburg’s monumental accomplishments as both a lawyer and a jurist, she showed stunning levels of hubris by refusing to resign from the court during Obama’s presidency when Democrats still had a Senate majority. When she was asked why she shouldn’t give up her seat, Ginsburg simply said, “Who you would prefer on the court?”
It is understandable that Ginsburg, who spent decades fighting for women’s equality, would want to keep doing so. But, as a longtime friend of the late arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, she had to know that conservatives would play hardball with her seat and that given her age and health, she risked Republicans replacing her and erasing her legacy later down the line.
Texas’ abortion law understandably elicited strong feelings from activists — especially given the current makeup of Congress, it is unlikely it or the White House can or will do anything to protect the rights of those who seek an abortion. But at this point, all of the arguments about the Sanders-Clinton primary are just as busted as the calls for “Bernie or Bust.”