Bernie Sanders keeps fishing for reasons to claim the states he won should count more than the states he lost. Plus Bill Clinton is a lousy comedian. (More)

“That is the most conservative part of this great country”

During Thursday night’s primary debate, Bernie Sanders made some stunning comments that Democratic voters in the South:

“Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true: Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South, no question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact,” Sanders said. “But you know what, we’re out of the Deep South now. And we’re moving up. We got here, we’re going to California, we got a number of large states there. And having won 7 out of the last 8 caucuses and primaries, having a level of excitement and energy among working people and low-income people doing better.”

First, as Hillary Clinton replied, she didn’t simply clean Sanders’ clock in the Deep South (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina). She also won by huge margins in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Yes, many of those are states that no Democratic nominee has won in decades. But Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia are swing states – totaling 75 Electoral College votes – that any Democratic nominee must carry in November to win the White House.

What swing states has Sanders won? And no, Michigan and Wisconsin don’t count. No Republican presidential candidate has won Michigan since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and no Republican has won Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984. That leaves … well … Colorado, with 9 electoral votes.

All of Sanders’ other wins have come either in states no Democrat will win in November (like Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) or states that any Democrat will win in November (such as Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington).

“Sanders is winning states that are much whiter than the Democratic electorate as a whole”

Worse, Sanders’ claim that Clinton won “the most conservative” states is simply false – in terms of who voted in Democratic primaries – as The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk explains:

The implications of each of these claims deserve scrutiny. Is the South really the most conservative part of the country? At least for the purposes of the Democratic primary – which is the race at hand – that claim is not clearly true. In the southern states of South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas, between 20 to 27 percent of Democratic primary voters in exit polls identified as “very liberal,” with a range of 54 to 59 percent identifying as liberal in total. This profile does not look much different than the major – and decidedly non-southern – states of Ohio and Michigan, where 22 and 23 percent of Democratic voters were “very liberal” and 59 and 57 percent identified as liberal. Polls in New York suggest that about 24 percent of likely Democratic primary voters are “very liberal.” A recent poll in the great liberal bastion of California suggests similar numbers to New York, with about a quarter of Democratic voters aligning as very liberal and around 60 percent identifying as liberal.

In other words, the ideological cross-section of the states Clinton won is pretty much the same as for Democrats nationwide. More to the point, so does the demographic cross-section of the states Clinton won, as FiveThirthEight’s Nate Silver explains:

But overall, the math is pretty simple. Sanders is winning states that are much whiter than the Democratic electorate as a whole, Clinton is winning states that are much blacker than the Democratic electorate as a whole, and Clinton is winning most of those states that are somewhere in the middle, whether they’re in the South (like Virginia) or elsewhere (like Ohio or Nevada). That’s why she’ll probably be the Democratic nominee.

“The ultimate expression of privilege”

That’s not a shocking insight. Sanders’ struggles to win people of color are well-documented. Much of that is grounded in the exceptional challenges that people of color have faced and still face, as the New York Times’ Charles Blow describes:

History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders.

Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

And New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait bluntly calls out the privilege implicit in demands for ‘purity’:

That refusal to accept the necessity of compromise in a winner-take-all two-party system (and an electorate where conservatives still outnumber liberals) is characteristic of a certain idealistic style of left-wing politics. Its conception of voting as an act of performative virtue has largely confined itself to white left-wing politics, because it is at odds with the political tradition of a community that has always viewed political compromise as a practical necessity. The expectation that a politician should agree with you on everything is the ultimate expression of privilege.

That fits with studies that show whites tend to have a greater sense of agency, the belief that you control your actions and your actions determine your outcomes. In the context of politics: “I voted and my candidate won, so now I should get the policies I want.”

The myth of ‘momentum’

But for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s a mistake to look at Sanders’ comments through the lens of race. Instead, let’s take at its face his argument that super-delegates should turn to him – despite Clinton’s leads in both primary voters and pledged delegates – because he has ‘momentum.’

First, political momentum is a myth, as Nate Silver demonstrated back in 2010:

When people say a particular candidate has momentum, what they are implying is that present trends are likely to perpetuate themselves into the future. Say, for instance, that a candidate trailed by 10 points in a poll three weeks ago – and now a new poll comes out showing the candidate down by just 5 points. It will frequently be said that this candidate “has the momentum”, “is gaining ground,” “is closing his deficit,” or something similar.

Each of these phrases are in the present tense. They create the impression that – if the candidate has gone from being 10 points down to 5 points down, then by next week, he’ll have closed his deficit further: perhaps he’ll even be ahead!

There’s just one problem with this. It has no particular tendency toward being true.

This year’s primary calendar is a case in point: Clinton reeled off seven straight wins in March, immediately before Sanders reeled off seven straight in April. Did Clinton’s ‘momentum’ stall … or did the campaign simply move to smaller, whiter, mostly caucus states that favored Sanders demographically?

But let’s pretend ‘Big Mo’ is real and say Sanders narrows his deficits in the four biggest states remaining: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and California. Even if he wins narrow victories in all four states – which looks hugely unlikely – he still wouldn’t overtake Clinton in pledged delegates. He needs almost 20-point wins in all four of those states to catch her.

If Sanders doesn’t overtake her in pledged delegates, asking super-delegates to bail him out – because ‘momentum’ – is like a losing coach demanding the Super Bowl trophy because “We won the third quarter and tied the fourth! So we had the momentum at the end of the game, when it really matters!”

Well, no. Points scored in the first half count exactly the same as points scored in the second half. And pledged delegates won in the first half of the primary calendar count exactly the same as pledged delegates won in the second half.

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“A joke, a total joke”

And please, Hillary, muzzle your husband:

He told supporters at a New York City event that “it’s fine” that young students have come out in force for Sanders. The former president then took aim at one of the Vermont senator’s primary lines of attack against Hillary Clinton: Wall Street reform. “It sounds so good, just shoot every third person on Wall Street and everything will be fine,” Bill Clinton said.

Maybe some far-fringe Sanders supporters have called for summary executions of Wall Street executives. But I haven’t read about them, and this is exactly the kind of hyperbolic the-other-guys-are-evil rhetoric we usually get from Republicans … including his excuse:

After his speech on Friday, Bill Clinton told NBC News that he didn’t think he was being too dismissive of Sanders’ supporters and clarified that his remark moments earlier about Wall Street was “a joke, a total joke.”

The former president concluded, “You know, we all need to lighten up here, have a little sense of humor.”

To quote Ellen DeGeneres: “If it were a joke, we’d both be laughing.”

Maybe I need to write another letter to former President Clinton….

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Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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Good day and good nuts