Smith: A yuuuuuuge miscalculation

first_imgby Mike Smith Governor Peter Shumlin and US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) — two experienced Vermont politicians supporting Hillary Clinton — are probably wondering if they made the right political calculation. No doubt they figured that Senator Bernie Sanders would have peaked by now and that most Democrats would be gravitating to Clinton as their nominee to be our next president. By backing Clinton, they must have expected that supporters of Sanders would be initially angry over their endorsements but because the Sanders’ candidacy didn’t amount to much they would ultimately get over it and all would be forgiven. In essence, no harm, no foul. But things have not gone according to plan for so-called “establishment Democrats” and Bernie Sanders has far exceeded expectations. He virtually tied Clinton in Iowa and then went on to shellac her in New Hampshire, winning by almost 22 percentage points. Home court advantage? Perhaps. But national polls show Sanders gaining on Clinton across the country. There was a time, not too long ago, when Clinton held substantial leads in the polls in New Hampshire, Iowa and nationally. At that time, it was a safe bet to support Clinton — that’s why so many high-powered Vermont Democrats jumped on her bandwagon. And although Clinton is viewed as still having the advantage, it is no longer a certainty that she’ll beat Sanders. In fact, Vice President Joe Biden is rumored to be keeping his options open. Clinton’s recent setbacks are the result of strategic blunders by her campaign as well as the perception of the candidate herself.The Clinton campaign has struggled for a strategy that can counter Sanders’ populist message that the political and economic systems are rigged. The clear implication is that politicians such as Clinton are part of the problem, not a solution. Sanders has been hammering away at the fact that Clinton is beholden to the Wall Street firms that paid her lucrative speaking fees; and she also accepted millions in campaign contributions from them. She has yet to effectively counter this connection to the nation’s wealthiest one percent. Instead, she has concocted ineffective tactics to try to slow Sanders’ momentum. For example, attempting to move left of Sanders, as if this were possible (Note to the Clinton campaign: You can’t out-flank a lifelong socialist on the left — especially when you have been part of the corporate and political establishment for years.) This tactic will never work because it fails the credibility test. And recently, Madeleine Albright and other Clinton surrogates attacked women that were not supporting Clinton. This tactic backfired when women appeared to show their political independence by supporting the candidate who best represented their values regardless of gender. Clinton was handed an embarrassing nine-point defeat among Granite State women. By far, the No. 1 issue among Democrats in New Hampshire was the issue of trust. Clinton has a problem establishing herself as the candidate who can be trusted. This trust issue is a problem for the Clinton camp, because it goes beyond the policy differences she has with Sanders, or even the Republicans. Trust with the voters is essential to winning elections. As the primary season wears on if she can’t overcome this trust factor in other states then her campaign will be truly in trouble. Luckily for Clinton, the campaign now goes to South Carolina and Nevada. Recent polls (that do not take into account Bernie’s successes) indicate she’s maintaining a sizable lead in both states. But Clinton needs a clear victory to bolster her campaign and slow Bernie’s momentum.If Sanders continues to exceed expectations — and he doesn’t necessarily have to win in South Carolina and Nevada in order to do that — he will maintain his momentum going into future primaries especially those important primaries on Super Tuesday. The calculation that Sanders would disappear from the national political scene in quick order proved false. Chances are, he will continue his presidential bid longer than many expected, perhaps all the way to the convention. But one thing is for certain:Vermont’s Democratic hierarchy underestimated Bernie Sanders. And as Bernie might say: “It was a “yuuuge” miscalculation.”Mike Smith was the secretary of administration and secretary of human services under former Governor James Douglas. He’s a regular contributor to Vermont Business Magazine.last_img