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Preliminary Notes on Why Sanders Lost the Democratic Primary


So it turns out, Hillary won the Democratic Party’s nomination. Most people are mad or disappointed and a majority of them think it’s important to support Clinton against Trump. The argument is that in this historic election, a worse-than-Reagan character is intending not only to further privatize the US government operations and infrastructure but undo the great cultural march forward undertaken by the leftist liberals in America during the last three decades. On the other hand, the social media is filled with disdain for Hillary by radicals and Bernie Sanders supporters. Those who passionately supported democratic scialism in the last 12 months are vowing to never vote for her and instead support a third party candidate or, worse, stay home altogether and boycott the elections.

These are all valid and important debates, however, nobody is ready yet to look critically at Sanders and his campaign, to see if there was anything from his side that could have contributed to his defeat. It is important to address this question because in doing so, we might be able to better answer the classic leftist question of What Needs to be Done in regards to the November elections. Here are the points that come to mind as to why Sanders lost the Democratic primaries.

Early on, Sanders was not ready or confident about winning. This psychologically self-made glass ceiling was fundamental to his other errors, some of which are listed below. When one is not convinced of having any chance of winning a battle, sticking to the original arguments and hoping to make a symbolic impact hinders the flexibility needed to navigate towards victory.

Sanders should have chastised Clinton for a number of issues which either were never part of the original Sanders arsenal or entered when it was way too late. To start, Sanders should have gone after her for setting up a private email server. He should have linked this breach of procedure to her disastrous foreign policy around the world. Clinton should have been ethically and politically indicted throughout the campaign for destabilizing the US relationship with Russia and for “geopoliticizing” the Arab Spring (making it an instrument of the US hegemonic war with Russia and China), a cardinal sin which resulted in the chaotification of Egypt and destruction of two other Arab countries, namely Libya and Syria.

Sanders never went after Obama and instead pretended to be his true heir. This was a flawed strategy with fatal consequences. One can argue that besides a few small differences, there were and continue to be no real positions taken by Clinton on a number of key issues that were fundamentally different than how Obama had acted all throughout his presidency. Sanders should have drawn similarities between the two and advocated for true change away from the Obama policies and their Clintonian consequences.

On the epistemological level our time is marked by a new understanding of the functional aspect of democracy not as a fair and ethical system but a process that needs to be gamed if not hacked. Sanders unfortunately based his campaign on a return to true democracy rather than strategically using his resources to take advantage of the possibilities that this flawed system offered him in he 21st century. Thus, instead of complaining about Clinton subverting the system, he should have also sought to subvert the system himself.

Sanders’ team had no real plan to combat let alone halt voter suppression and other manipulation of primary elections colluded on by Clinton and the DNC. Having no plans prior into entering a battle with a shrewd politician who already had learned many lessons from the 2008 primaries was more tragic than wishful thinking.

Sanders underestimated the power of minorities in diverting attention away from his universal, class-based message. He did not pay enough attention to more local and human rights-level grievances. This should have been clear to his team right after their first encounter with #BLM. Unfortunately, staying the course with his class-based politics and reluctance to incorporate intersectionality into the campaign’s message haunted him until it was too late for him to overturn the general perception about his attitude towards and popularity amongst visible minorities particularly the African American community.

Waiting for endorsement from Elizabeth Warren was a fatal mistake. Warren was predisposed to enter the scene as a Hillary supporter. Sanders should have nominated a strong and experienced woman of color like Nina Turner as his running mate earlier on to double his own celebrity power and show that he really meant business when it came to being serious about anti establishment political change and the plight of African Americans.

Instead of only critiquing the criminal justice system and its racist biases, Sanders should have called for an amnesty for all those who had been incarcerated for drug-related and non violent crimes. The conservative response to such a bold move from Clinton would have exposed the conservative core of her campaign, making her vulnerable amongst African American voters.

It was clear from the day 1 that that Sanders never had the mainstream media. The place of mass media in subverting the primaries should have been part and parcel of his campaign not just a “radical” point pushed on social media by the fringe elements from his side. Equally, the energy spent on seeking fair treatment from mainstream media should have been spent on endorsing one or two outlets as semi-official platforms for his message and side of the news, in order to combat Hillary’s full-spectrum media dominance.

The amount of art, graffiti and political murals, memes and other kind of digital and non digital graphics created in support of Sanders during his campaign was phenomenal. However, there wasn’t an effort made by his campaign to use this power to full advantage. These distributed efforts remained localized and hardly connected with his campaign advertising. Sanders was supported by a great number of artists, famous or otherwise, as reflected on his web site. He never really found a way to flaunt these actors, musicians, writers, poets and visual artists and make a point about being a pro-art & -creativity candidate.

Reviving democratic socialism in America was a noble cause but the campaign remained focused on America and had little to say about the exercise of USA as the only global superpower. Sanders should have more assertively structured his campaign as not only the revival of class struggle but a much needed anti-war movement to internally pressure the largest military hegemon in world history to abandon the use of military for settling its political and economic disputes.

Bernie Sanders presented himself as the uncompromising candidate but realpolitik operates in the field of compromise. Like Obama, he could have hedged “his soul” quite a bit earlier on with Hillary’s backers by highlighting her vulnerabilities to Trump, without watering down his message. His puritan notion of ethical standards alienated superdelegates and softer capitalists. If he was going to end his campaign with the grand compromise with Clinton, why not do some amount of this earlier on?

Sanders promised people a contested convention and prepared his delegates for a real democratic showdown in the style of Chantal Mouffe’s and Ernesto Laclau’s concept of Radical Democracy. Then he totally changed posture and endorsed Hillary on the eve of the convention. This sudden shift was damaging both to his own credibility and his supporters as well as the DNC, who had to deal with disgruntled delegates that for months had been preparing for a real political struggle inside the party. In addition, his contestation of the primary probably would have not changed the course of the nomination but could have provided the possibility for substantial compromises with Clinton during the convention.

Sanders was essentially a leftist reactionary candidate unfamiliar with new tendencies within the leftist thought. He could have benefitted from encouraging his team to do more research on the ideas side of things. He could have taken up issues of privacy and the emergence of artificial intelligence, automation and universal basic income to his heart and crafted a totally new leftist campaign appropriate for the 21st century. But instead he stuck to the Fordist social democratic values of the 20th century, hoping to convince people that a return to the past is not only possible but necessary.

Sanders and his team were lucky they had millions of young digital natives at their disposal to update and modernize their communication strategy, but the campaign itself was completely old school. He could have benefited from taking a page or two from Trump’s playbook concerning how one can use a changing and precarious personality online to attack an opponent, making over the top demands and comments to expand his media coverage’ Like Trump he should have exercised running towards his enemy and encouraging controversy, rather than remaining on the defensive for the duration of his campaign.


Two topics are of actual interest here. First, could Sanders have run a campaign on his own, without the DNC? I don’t think he had the money or organization for that; one might ask innocently enough what he’s been doing all this time. The DNC let him run in its primary; was that an idealistic, practical or cynical decision? No one has suggested, I don’t think, that the ludicrously despised DWS actually tricked old BS from the very beginning.

And secondly, the campaign demonstrated the flaws of socialism in general and ‘60s socialism in particular – it’s sexism and racial blindness, as well as its inclination towards bureaucratism, and towards sectarianism. Socialism has failed so many times before; let’s try it again! In the end, Sanders’ doctrinaire ideological campaign was reduced to a mirror image of Trump’s demagoguery.


There is a lot to discuss in your comment. Sanders could not have run a campaign like this from the beginning but certainly the attitude of trump towards is party-mates in the primaries could have given Sanders a clue about how he could and should have attacked Clinton early on. The red lines Sanders self imposed were amongst the dumbest things a politician running for an office can do when fighting a much stronger rival.


Forgive me if I disagree – Sanders’ greatest error was the negative campaign he ran against Clinton; Hillary hate was a losing gambit. Sanders should have cast his message as taking her liberalism even further into a still-rosier Disneyland future.


Actually marketing 101 totally proves you wrong, to compete with a product which is popular (if we assume you are right) you need to make clear and opposing distinctions. Nobody will buy a smiliar product if the original is available.


After the Revolution, there were five armed rebellions against the new republic. Then the Constitution was designed to limit citizen participation. The following was written by a member of the Whiskey Rebellion three weeks after Washington’s first inauguration. I believe that its relevant today.


@AaronBurrSociety, are you suggesting there is something logical about the ontology of power that cannot be overcome through participation? I personally think this isn’t the case and that we have not tried hard enough to go around these obstacles.


Sorry for the delay in answering but I have a show opening next week.

I was part of OWS so I believe in direct action and other forms of participation. However, it has been 5 years since the great bank robbery that crashed the international financial markets. Now I like to show a foto of Darth Vader and explain that America is the current evil empire. Europe and most recently England had their turns but after WWII the US dollar became the reserve currency replacing the British pound. Monetary policy, both domestic and foreign are important. Ask Brazil, Russia, India and China, they are the former BRIC nations that wanted to replace the US dollar as the reserve currency. They failed and now each of the countries are in recession or decline. Of course it was more than monetary policy but that was an important factor.

Bernie Sander and Jill Stein talk about taxing the rich, debt relief etc. but those are temporary solutions. As you know FDR’s New Deal collapsed under Clinton. I believe that if we want change we must question capitalism and empire. Its not only decolonizing the Mideast & Puerto Rico but Baltimore and most inner cities. And Native American have equally bad or worst conditions. It is easy to discuss these issues in this forum but can we make capitalism & empire part of the political discourse?

There was a movement for a constitutional amendment to declare that corporations aren’t citizens and taking money out of politics. This would be marginally effective because an economic structure controlled by corporate capitalism and the Federal Reserve Bank will never finance worker coops or grassroots community development.

This a a quote by James Madison in Federalist Paper #10 from 1787.

When Madison mentions improper or wicked projects he is referencing social and economic justice.

Labor is still an important issue, especially as more of us become precarious. But fighting for labor rights has not produced the type of change that are sustainable. Looking at the political and economic controls imbedded in the constitution could provide us with the tools for dismantling capitalism.



Sorry DADABASE your marketing studies may be up to date but in reading comprehension you might need a remedial course – I said Bernie should have distinguished himself by being the superior liberal product without his Bolshevik-style attacks on his fellow Dem. That would have endeared himself to wishy-washy liberals like me; instead his unfair and hateful attacks alienated what should have been his core constituency. I know that this is an academic forum and the last thing commentators here care about is effecting practical change, but when in comes to politics a realist approach is best. Today Aug 24 Bernie says he is launching his new campaign for whatever BS he has in mind – and progressives should also keep in mind that splitting the left-wing vote is a sure way to elect reactionaries.