One of the interesting -- and if you ask some people, frightening -- aspects of this election cycle is the sheer number of people it has mobilized out of an ideological aversion to business-as-usual politics. The yearning for a candidate to speak plainly about many of America's problems has informed the candidacies and fervent support of two candidates in particular: Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
But at this point, Trump has gotten much further than Sanders -- he has essentially conducted a takeover of a major political party, reflected by the current schism between the brash billionaires and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has all but won her party's nomination, with Sanders trailing her in pledged delegates, superdelegates and the overall popular vote. Sanders has indicated he will continue until the party convention this summer to force Clinton to maintain a mostly left-wing platform during the general election and her presidency rather than triangulate to the center.
Sanders has also indicated he will eventually throw his support behind Clinton, a proposition which some of his supporters find too difficult to stomach. The election has, in particular, laid bare an ideological rift between older and younger Democrats on issues such as breaking up large financial institutions, minimizing the role of money in politics and how to reduce student debt.
But by refusing to support the Democratic candidate in the general election, young Sanders supporters will ultimately be engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy that does not end up with people who agree with their ideology walking through the halls of power. Instead, recriminations between different factions within the party is more likely and the left is further likely to be marginalized by the center, as it was in the aftermath of the 2000 election.
More than this, Sanders' campaign -- as well as external political and economic events -- have helped him shape the debate during the Democratic primaries and have pushed Clinton to the left on a host of positions, such as her former approval turned disapproval of the Keystone XL pipeline and her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as CNN's MJ Lee notes.
The Democratic primaries have laid bare the fact that progressive forces can decidedly influence the party from within when they work hard and put up the numbers to show for it by voting for candidates like Sanders. Those who have been working hard at shifting the Democrats to the left would be fools to leave now.
External events, such as the release of the Panama Papers and a Greenpeace leak of negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union on a massive trade deal, have helped further make Sanders' case that the economy is rigged against working people even better than he can on his own. The political moment is shifting, although what comes on the other side is not clear.
Clare Foran of The Atlantic makes the point that battle lines between Democrats and Republicans will be redrawn during the general election and that voters who insist right now that they will never vote for Clinton may eventually be pressured by family, friends or the general desire to make sure that Donald Trump never sits in the Oval Office to eventually cast a vote for her. If the results from the New York primary's exit polls are to be trusted, then most Sanders supporters will eventually vote for the Democratic candidate.
The Republicans are currently in the process of tearing each other apart, and have effectively split into three major wings:
- The Bush Republicans (members of the "establishment").
- Tea party conservatives (supporters of candidates like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the "Freedom Caucus").
- Trump Republicans (nationalists, blue-collar voters and some "establishment" support).
Rank-and-file Democrats, as of now, view their party as being relatively united. If Bernie's revolution is continued from within the Democratic Party, it could become the de facto majority party and relegate the Republicans to the clear minority party for years to come, and shift the national "Overton window" to the left. But if the "Never Clinton" movement turns into an aversion to all Democrats after Sanders -- likely -- throws his support behind Clinton, this will not happen.