Super Tuesday highlighted an ongoing problem with Democrats of a certain set. You know the type: romantic idealists who’ve fallen for their candidate’s no-nonsense attitude and bold progressive agenda; starry-eyed optimists who want it all, who vehemently defend their candidate’s pie-in-the-sky chances, evidence be damned.
I’m writing, of course, about Hillary Clinton voters.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve watched the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination grow increasingly heated — most often along generational lines. Clinton is leading with baby boomers and seniors, who seem to value her foreign policy experience and poise. Challenger Bernie Sanders is winning handily among millennials like me, who admire his grassroots fundraising and rejection of monied interests.
Electability has been an important chip in that debate. I can count on eight hands the number of older, wiser friends I’ve heard decry Sanders’ nonexistent appeal. Clinton’s a less divisive candidate, they say. Sanders is, after all — and let us here clutch our throats like proper Victorian ladies — a socialist. He’s less experienced (true), he’s less eloquent (arguable) and he looks like a cantankerous old muppet (to me, this is a selling point).
No, a Clinton nomination is the Democrats’ best chance to keep the White House blue in 2016.
The trouble is, that doesn’t seem to be true.
A Real Clear Politics average of recent polls shows Clinton losing to Republican challengers Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich. The same polls show Sanders beating those Republican contenders and beating Donald Trump by a wider margin.
Another problem? Clinton trails Sanders by a sizable margin in most favorability polls.
Making fun of millennials is admittedly a cherished American pastime. (So entitled! So naïve! So plaid!) But when our chosen candidate fares better against the potential Republican nominees, it’s hard not to argue we’ve made the politically savvier choice.
That doesn’t, of course, mean our choice is popular. After his anemic performance on Super Tuesday, a Sanders nomination looks increasingly unlikely. Precision is difficult in a primary system more poorly conceived than a Dan Brown novel, but current counts show Sanders trailing Clinton by more than 600 delegates.
Making up that margin isn’t impossible, but it would require an improbable shakeup in remaining races. Clinton supporters have good cause to celebrate — for now.
The general election will be a much more formidable contest. Clinton’s Republican challengers seem invincible to the same kinds of scandals that have plagued her campaign. (See: the uneven weight on the potential legal battles facing Trump and Clinton. If you’ve read more about Clinton’s emails than Trump’s fraudulent university, you’re not alone).
To become the purported electable candidate, Clinton will need to win over a demographic that deeply distrusts her. And she will need us. In battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, millennials comprise a large share of voters.
Sanders pushed Clinton left on some key millennial issues — college affordability, income inequality, cannabis legality — but many of us are skeptical that she’ll stay there.
That skepticism is a problem. As much as I’d like to stick up for millennials, we’re notoriously difficult to goad to the polls. Dejected Bernie fans seem unlikely to shift their support to the other party, but they may do something just as dangerous: stay home.
Fair or not, unless and until Clinton shatters the perception that she’s beholden to big banks and corporate elites — and trades those now-infamous $2,700-a-plate fundraisers for a bulk of blue-collar contributions — millennials who felt the Bern may feel frosty toward the Clinton alternative.
Liz Cook is a Kansas City freelance writer and economic research editor.