The Skeptics

Three Big Reasons Bernie Failed

Unfortunately for Bernie Sanders, presidential politics is all about the math. Hillary Clinton increased her delegate lead over Sanders on a night that Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver were banking would be a solid performance for their boss. Instead, Sanders was butchered: he lost by 12 points in California and 26 points in New Jersey. Hillary has the majority of pledged delegates and the massive majority of superdelegates. Bernie has, well…not enough.

Here are the top three reasons why Sanders couldn’t drag his political revolution across the finish line:

1. The Detested Superdelegates

Superdelegates are the definition of elitist. They are the elected politicians, ex-politicians, state chairman, and people that operate the Democratic Party who are afforded the luxury of voting for whomever they want regardless of how their state votes. They can also change their minds and switch their allegiance to another candidate as many times as they’d like before the Democratic convention gavels in.

Sanders and millions of his supporters portray the superdelegates as the holy-grail of what it means to be part of the establishment. And he isn’t alone: you have some superdelegates that think there shouldn’t be any superdelegates at all. Yet no amount of complaining helps you win superdelegates, and Sanders learned that the hard way.

He started his campaign with a massive hole in superdelegates. Hundreds upon hundreds signed up for Clinton’s campaign before he even joined the race last spring. It may be unfair, but it’s the way the system works. The final superdelegate count as of June 8 is HRC: 574, Bernie: 48. You simply can’t win the Democratic nomination when the scales are tipped against you in that way ‹ doubly so if you cannot even convince a single Clinton superdelegate to jump ship and join the Sanders revolution instead.

2. Sanders was terrible in the south

The southern region of the United States has voted consistently for the Republican Party at the presidential level since Reagan’s time (Bill Clinton, who won Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky in 1992 and 1996, was an exception to the rule). But the south holds a hell of a lot of delegates during the Democratic primary ‹ 975 pledged delegates in total if you count Texas, Oklahoma and exclude Kentucky and Virginia). That’s nearly a quarter of the all delegates available in the race.

Looking back, Sander’s only chance in winning would have been for him to pick off enough delegates in the south. But he simply couldn’t close the deal: the south is a different culture for Bernie, who is used to dealing with progressive Vermonters. And it showed: of the 975 delegates in the south, Hillary won 659 of them, or 67 percent. That is a lot of delegates for Sanders to give away, particularly if you couldn’t the kinds of states that are large enough to close the gap later in the schedule (like California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois).

It takes a special kind of presidential candidate to write off an entire region of the country and still win enough pledged delegates to take the nomination by the time the voting ends. Sanders wasn’t that kind of candidate.

3. Trouble with Democrats

Sanders did tremendously well with registered independents. He didn’t with registered Democrats, which is ironic considering that he was competing to be the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

A quick look at the exit polls demonstrates just how much trouble Sanders had in relation to Hillary Clinton with Democratic voters. In Iowa, Clinton bested Sanders in this category by a margin of 56 percent–39 percent. In New Hampshire (a state Sanders won by 22 points), he only bested Clinton by four points among registered Democratic voters. In Michigan (another state where Sanders won), he lost Democrats to Clinton by eighteen points. In Pennsylvania, Democrats voted for Clinton over Sanders 62 percent–38 percent.

For whatever reason (his challenge to the way the Democratic Party does business; his prickliness towards DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz; his lambasting of Democratic superdelegates as pulling off some kind of conspiracy before the election even started), the Vermont senator couldn’t gain the trust of men and women who formed the rank-and-file of the party. It’s tough to lead a party into the general election when the party itself views you as a troublemaker or too much of a maverick.

All of this is no doubt a superficial analysis of the situation. There will be reports coming out that explore the Sanders campaign operation in far more depth than I’ve provided here (John Wagner, Philip Rucker, and Robert Costa are already ahead of the curve). But his ceding of the south, his shaky relationship with registered Democrats, and his hole with superdelegates certainly tilted the numbers to his disadvantage.

Daniel R. DePetris is an associate analyst at the Raddington Group. He has also written for, Small Wars Journal and the Diplomat.