Brett Graham: Feel the Bern, Hillary

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 1:51pm

The magic number is 2,383. That is how many delegates are needed to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president — to be the standard-bearer for the 43.1 million members of the Democratic party in November. Though the race is far from over, the front-runner is clear. Bernie Sanders has confounded critics and pundits with victories in seven states, yet he still trails significantly in delegate count. Sanders may have exceeded expectations with his narrow victory in Michigan last night, but, ultimately, the delegates will be split and Clinton will walk out of Super Tuesday Part II with an expanded lead in terms of delegates. Barring any substantial change, Hillary Clinton will accept her party’s nomination on stage in Philadelphia this July; but if she’s smart, Bernie will be there too, on a Clinton-Sanders unity ticket that would almost surely win.

As much success as he has enjoyed, the Vermont senator has had too much trouble with some key Democratic voting groups to be the nominee. The base of the party is a multiracial one — in 2012, Obama was elected by a diverse constituency that was, according to Jeet Heer’s recent opinion piece for the New Republic, “56 percent white, 24 percent black, 14 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian.” Heer goes on to point out that “By contrast, Mitt Romney’s electorate was 89 percent white, 2 percent black, 6 percent Latino, and 2 percent Asian. Clinton’s coalition looks like Obama’s; Sanders’s looks like Romney’s.” This is reflected by the states he has won, which are overwhelmingly white — Vermont, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and a close second in Iowa.

Sanders may struggle with appeal to minority voters, but he would make the perfect pick for vice president, adding everything to the ticket that Clinton cannot. Where Hillary has struggled to appeal to younger voters and millennials, Bernie has excelled. College campuses “feel the Bern,” nearly without exception. Additionally, though exit polls indicate that Democrats would be willing to vote for whichever candidate wins the nomination in November, Sanders would continue to draw massive crowds, bring new voters into the political process and excite the base. His message resonates with independents and moderates, standing in stark contrast with Clinton — an establishment figure flush with superdelegates and endorsements.

Furthermore, Sanders has consistently set the agenda on the Democratic side and steered the rhetoric that has governed both campaigns. In December and January, the conversation was about what it meant to be a progressive, a title he wears proudly. Clinton then spent weeks on the trail touting her credentials as a “progressive who gets things done,” courting voters and support on the left wing of her party. Recently, in her Super Tuesday victory speech, it was obvious that Clinton has taken a page out of her opponent’s book; she discussed income inequality and the role of corporations in our society, bemoaned the burden of student loans and called for “more love and compassion” in this country. To lose Bernie in the spotlight would be to lose the north star of the Democratic platform, a risk that Clinton cannot afford to take.

Hillary Clinton is viewed by many to be untrustworthy, cold, elitist and too closely tied to Wall Street — what better counterbalance than the likable, warm and populist Sanders, whose campaign is fueled by donations that average less than $30? Imagine how sharply her public image could change with Bernie’s charm and warmth at her disposal.

Granted, there would be drawbacks to this ticket. The party of diversity might not be best served by nominating two white New Yorkers whose combined age is 142. It might be difficult to reconcile Bernie’s desire for certain proposals that have been central to his campaign — universal health care and breaking up the big banks — with Clinton’s more moderate approach. And I have heard one question each time I have discussed this: Would Bernie even want to be Hillary’s VP?

Of course he would. For 35 years, since he was elected the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he has been saying the same thing. He has been standing up for civil rights, the middle class and campaign finance reform. Watch floor speeches he made as a congressman in the 1990s — the wording has changed, but the message is the same. And for the first time since he began his career in politics, Bernie’s brand of liberalism has been resonating with millions of people. He has a microphone, and I doubt he’s willing to give it up just yet. At no point in his campaign has he expressed hatred or even any substantial animosity toward Hillary, saying often that she is qualified and calling her a friend. With the potential to follow in the foot steps of  Joe Biden and Dick Cheney as strong political voices in the office of vice president, Sanders would surely enjoy substantial influence in the Clinton White House.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of a Vice President Sanders to those in Hillaryland, however, would be the contrast between the two parties in 2016. Voters would see a broken party system in which the front-runner is a reality television star who is often racist and sexist, enjoying a casual relationship with the truth. The Republican race in 2016 has been a circus in which it is acceptable to make comments on the debate stage about the size of Donald Trump’s manhood. What's more, the alternatives to Trump are the widely disliked Ted Cruz and the establishment favorite Marco Rubio, who inexplicably has only won one state and has resorted to a policy of “if you can’t beat him, join him” by implying on the campaign trail that Trump may have wet his pants, and reading some of his tweets. Because that is presidential.

A Clinton-Sanders ticket would unite the party. The Democrats would seem like the adults. Bernie would bring everything to the ticket that Hillary cannot, along with countless intangibles that she could not get from any other establishment pick or career politician. In early February, when asked about whether she would consider Bernie as a VP pick on the debate stage in New Hampshire, Hillary said, “If I'm so fortunate as to be the nominee, the first person I will call to talk to about where we go and how we get it done will be Senator Sanders.”

No one should be surprised if the ticket is set in stone by the time she hangs up.

Brett Graham can be reached at btgraham@umich.edu