This commentary originally appeared on The Hill.
Dear Secretary Clinton:
Like most of the other Bernie Sanders delegates at the national convention last week, I don’t trust you. At the same time, we have a common interest in defeating Donald Trump. That ought to be the basis for a tactical alliance during the next 99 days — but you need to make a major course correction.
The problem can’t be solved by staying on message and telling your pal Terry McAuliffe to keep quiet. (Have you considered gifting him a vacation to a deserted island for the next hundred days?) He let slip what so many Bernie delegates and supporters around the country already figured — we’d be fools, given your record, to believe that your conversion to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership is genuine.
But here’s my point: Complacency about getting the votes of people who went for Bernie in the primaries is dangerous, wishful thinking. Many of the same pundits who, two weeks ago, were predicting a Democratic convention of tranquility and unity, are still citing polls that say 85 or 90 percent of Bernie voters will go for you in November. Such assessments are dubious.
You’re in danger of a steep falloff of turnout from Bernie’s primary voters. And crucially, in swing states, turnout will make all the difference. If an appreciable number of those Bernie voters opt to stay home or vote for a third-party candidate in the fall, here comes President Trump.
A week ago, polling analysts at FiveThirtyEight concluded that you were coming into the convention “with a real problem.” Even before the release of Democratic National Committee emails showing that the supposedly evenhanded DNC was aiding your campaign, “Clinton had about a third of Sanders supporters left to try to win over.” That’s easily a million swing-state voters.
And FiveThirtyEight added: “New data and analysis shared with FiveThirtyEight from Catalist and SurveyMonkey shows that, before the 2016 primaries, Sanders’s supporters voted less frequently than other 2016 voters, and they were less reliably Democratic than Clinton supporters. In other words, it’s not a matter of Clinton simply coaxing Sanders supporters back into the fold — many were never in the fold to begin with. That could increase the difficulty of the task facing Clinton.”
You’ve made the task all the more difficult because your selection of Tim Kaine for vice president has conveyed to Bernie voters that you see unity as a one-way street. When our independent Bernie Delegates Network conducted a straw poll of Bernie delegates in mid-July, 88 percent termed Kaine “unacceptable” as VP while 3 percent called him “acceptable.”
Likewise, you undermined unity pleas by immediately naming Debbie Wasserman Schultz as “honorary chair” of a component of your campaign as soon as she resigned from her DNC post. Don’t you realize that — faced with weighing your pat-on-the-head words versus your actions — Bernie supporters will be giving more credence to what you actually do?
While the “moderate Republican” voters you’re now courting are an endangered species, 13 million Sanders voters have shown that they’re motivated to engage in the political process. Why take them for granted?
If there’s an effective tactical alliance to be had, you’re screwing it up. Maybe the old triangulating reflex is just too deep-seated a habit to break. Maybe you want to pound home to Bernie folks that you’re the undisputed boss. Maybe you just can’t help yourself.
Whatever the reasons for your current approach, the consequences could be catastrophic. Beyond the fleeting praise for Bernie, your message to his delegates in Philadelphia wasn’t hard to discern: my corporate centrist way or the highway. If large numbers of Bernie supporters hit the road, you won’t have anyone to blame but yourself.