“Bernie is doing well, but he can’t possibly win the nomination,” a friend wrote to me in an email for what seemed like the thousandth time.
My friend attached an article from one of the nation’s leading newspapers showing how far behind Bernie Sanders remains in delegates. But the article failed to distinguish between superdelegates, the vast majority of whom are party insiders supporting Hillary Clinton, and pledged delegates.
As of now, Clinton has about 24 percent more pledged delegates than Bernie Sanders. That’s still a sizable gap, but it hardly makes Sanders’ candidacy an impossibility.
Clinton’s lead in superdelegates could vanish if Bernie gains a majority of pledged delegates. That’s what happened in 2008, when many of the superdelegates who initially supported her later flipped to then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Since mid-March, Sanders has been on a roll. He has won six out of the seven Democratic primary contests, and he’s won them big, beating Clinton by 40 percentage points or more in Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. On Tuesday, he took Wisconsin.
The enthusiasm for Sanders isn’t waning. If anything, it’s growing.
Yet if you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, or watch CNN or even MSNBC, or listen to the major pollsters and pundits, you’d come to the same conclusion as my friend.
Every success by Sanders is met with a story or column or talking head whose message is “but he can’t possibly win.” Or the media simply don’t report on his campaign.
Some Sanders supporters speak in dark tones about a media conspiracy against him.
I doubt one exists. The mainstream media are incapable of conspiring with anyone or anything. They wouldn’t dare try. Their reputations are on the line. If the public stops trusting them, their brands are worth nothing.
The real reason the major national media can’t see what’s happening is they exist inside the bubble of establishment politics, centered in Washington, and the bubble of establishment power, centered in New York. So they’re most interested in the personalities of the candidates, and in the people and resources backing them.
Within this frame of reference, it seems nonsensical that Sanders could possibly win the nomination. He’s a 74-year-old Jew from Vermont, originally from Brooklyn, who calls himself a Democratic socialist.
He wasn’t even a member of the Democratic Party until recently, has never been a fixture in the Washington or Manhattan circles of power and influence, and has no major backers among the political, corporate or Wall Street elites of America.
Because the major media are habituated to personalities and power, they haven’t been attending to Sanders’ message — or to its resonance among Democratic and independent voters (as well as many Republicans).
The media don’t know how to report on political movements. Yet a big part of Sanders’ candidacy is less about him than about the “political revolution” his followers want to bring about.
The major media haven’t noticed how determined Americans are to reverse the increasing concentration of wealth and political power that have been eroding our economy and democracy.
So it’s understandable the media continue to marginalize Bernie Sanders, and all he represents. But it’s way too early to count Sanders out.
And even if he loses the nomination, the movement he’s spawned isn’t going away. It’s one of the biggest stories of our time.
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies.