A short-sighted view proved very costly in long run

Berl Falbaum

Progressives, particularly women, who now bewail four years of Trump corruption, lies, an insurrection and, most important to them, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, might look in the mirror.

They have no one to blame but themselves. Come again?

That’s right. Think about it. When their candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, lost his bid against Hillary Clinton to become the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, many progressives vowed – proudly – not to vote for Clinton. Indeed, many stated publicly that they might even vote for Trump.

They adopted a short-sighted, selfish view for which they are now paying a price – and will do so for decades to come. 

As Peg Tyre wrote in Politico Magazine a week after the election: “So little of it seemed to matter to so many women in the voting booth: the vulgar language about sexual assault, the serial groping, the fat shaming, all the sharp, crystalline shards of misogyny that were spiked through Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. 

“Women didn’t just vote for Trump. They voted against Hillary Clinton. And for many, they weren’t voting against her as a woman. They were voting against her as an establishment figure, and her sex didn’t matter all that much.” 

Oh, lest we forget:  Trump was the pro-life candidate.

Consider:  Clinton lost four battleground states by slim margins:  Michigan, by 2 percent, 10,704 votes; Wisconsin by 0.8 percent, 22,748 votes; Florida by 1.2 percent, 112,911 votes; and Pennsylvania by only 0.7 percent, 44,292 votes.

These four states account for 85 electoral votes. Clinton, who lost to Trump 304 electoral votes to 227, did not need all of these four to win the presidency. She would have won with only 43 additional electoral votes with means that Florida with 29 electoral votes and Pennsylvania with 20 would have given her the victory.  All she needed in these two states was 157,203 votes.

Given these numbers, the following statistics from several post-2016 election studies take on additional meaning:  52 percent of white women and 64 percent of non-college educated white women voted for Trump and only 35 percent cast their ballots for Clinton.  And, finally overall, 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Trump).

Of course, no one bears more blame for Trump’s victory than Sanders. While he had every right to run and deserves credit for passionately injecting a crucial discussion on major issues, he stayed in the primary races too long, prolonging his candidacy even when it was clear that he would lose. His stubbornness continued to weaken Clinton, forcing her to spend more money and using vital campaign resources to attract progressives. What’s more, the continued political attacks did not help.

After his loss, Sanders delayed for weeks before endorsing Clinton. That sent a message to his followers that he was not happy with Clinton’s candidacy.

Some speculated that he waited because he did not want to surrender the spotlight. Others argued that he was “negotiating” to have Clinton endorse more of his policies.

Whatever the reasons for dragging his feet in supporting Clinton, when he finally backed her, he said all the right things but the passion was lacking, reinforcing the view of his followers that his heart was not totally committed.

When Sanders allowed at his rallies that Clinton needed to be elected, many in the crowd yelled, “No!”

He can argue all he wants about his role in the 2016 election. Sanders’ legacy is that he opened the gates for Trump to become president, a man he described in 2019, when he ran for president again, as the “most corrupt president” in modern U.S. history. 

For the purposes of this column, let’s just focus on what the progressives’ boycott of Clinton in 2016 has meant as it pertains to the Supreme Court.

In just this term, Roe v. Wade has been overturned; gun laws have been weakened; environmental regulations have been stripped; the separation between church and state is being watered down; and there are hints that other constitutional rights to privacy may be reversed.

Then consider the ages of the three conservative justices appointed by Trump:  Brett M. Kavanaugh is 57; Neil M. Gorsuch, 55, and Amy Coney Barrett is just 50. Barring illness or other unforeseeable circumstances, they will sit on the court for decades.  

If Clinton had won, there would not be a Kavanaugh-Gorsuch-Barrett alignment, nor a 6-3 super conservative majority.

The progressives staked out a position that if they could not have the presidential candidate they wanted, then they would take their ball and go home. The hell with all other consequences. They were childishly petulant ignoring the fact that Trump or Clinton would be president. There was no other choice. This was not a zero sum situation.  A loss for Clinton would not be a win for them.  

They acted, or more accurately did not act, forgetting another idiom: You reap what you sow. 

They – all of us – are suffering the consequences for their political blindness. Indeed, we are just beginning to feel all the effects of Trumpism as it relates to threats to our democracy.  

Trumpism will be with us for decades whether the former president runs in 2024 or not.  The seeds he planted run deep and are not easily stamped out.

One more point: It isn’t that there is no precedent for progressive spitefulness.  In 2000, Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, cost Vice President Al Gore the presidency. True, a Democrat did not face a depraved and corrupt Republican, but the principle is the same.

George W. Bush beat Gore in Florida by only 537 votes. Nader, with absolutely no chance to win, garnered almost 100,000 votes which would have gone to Gore along with Florida’s 25 electoral votes and the presidency.

That’s not all. In New Hampshire (four electoral votes), Nader received about 22,000 votes that could have given Gore a victory in that state and the presidency even without Florida. Bush beat Gore in New Hampshire by only about 7,000 votes.

Progressives may now regret their decision in 2016.  Unfortunately, it comes too late – much too late. It didn’t have to be this way. If only….


Berl Falbaum is a veteran political journalist and author who has written 12 books.