The last ballot, or the last vote?
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is defiant. While the Kentucky Democratic primary results were being counted, Sanders wasn't there. He was in Carson, California, addressing a huge rally. "Let me be as clear as I can be ... We are in 'til the last ballot is cast," he said, getting a thunderous roar in return.
There was more. "I say to the leadership of the Democratic Party: Open the doors, let the people in."
That could mean a lot of things, especially in the wake of the Nevada Democratic convention, where some of his supporters, angry that 60-some of Sanders delegates were disqualified, yelled and threw chairs. Nevada's Democratic chairwoman received death threats. "It's been vile," Roberta Lange told The New York Times. "It's been threatening messages, threatening my family, threatening my life, threatening my grandchild."
Clinton won the Nevada caucus this February during the state's county conventions. But Sanders supporters were hopeful of winning a greater share at the state convention. It was there that a dispute erupted over the rules, which Sanders ultimately lost. And the rules committee was evenly divided.
Sanders did not help matters when he rejected Democratic leaders' charges of violence as "nonsense," despite video proof, text messages, voice mails and corroborating news reports. Instead, Sanders claimed the "(Nevada) Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place."
The initial contention was over a voice-vote adoption of the convention rules, which Sanders lost. Sanders' campaign claims their voices were clearly more numerous.
A chairperson is like a sports referee. Good or bad, it's what goes. Sanders' post-Nevada approach threatens Democratic unity. News headlines are talking about a "fraying party." Sadly, the revolution that Sanders started seems to have stalled out in favor of rehashing internal party rules, rather than focusing on building a progressive movement once the primary season ends next month.
Many, if not most, of Sanders supporters are new to politics. And they have shaken up the system with their political support and donations to his cause. They take Sanders' words as political gospel: If he says things are rigged, they believe him. When Sanders echoes the presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and says things that excuse angry behavior, he countenances acting out of anger.
The question that arises in political veterans' minds is this: Trump is a cynic and plays supporters' anger for gain. But has Bernie, a passionate believer in justice and equality, lost his bearings and objectivity? Has Sanders convinced himself that "the system" really is denying millions of people their voice?
Secretary Clinton, by the delegate counts of several news organizations, is now 90 delegates away from hitting the magic number for the nomination. Does Sanders really think she got this far by suppressing votes?
Having won 3 million more popular votes than Sanders, wouldn't her voters feel stunned if the nomination were suddenly denied by any means other than the delegate count won in the primaries?
Despite reforms, the Democratic primary system still has flaws. Nevertheless, it has been conducted in the sunshine, in full view of the people and the press, and the rules were known up front and beforehand, along with clear after-election rules allowing for challenges and recounts.
What does Sen. Sanders want from this new rigidity? He is close to misrepresenting his chances of winning to his supporters -- he would have to trounce Clinton in the last few primaries to win; ties, even narrow victories, won't cut it.
Sanders is worsening the divisions inside the Democratic Party, which are real. It will be hard for the Democratic nominee to be victorious with economic reforms if saddled with a bitterly divided party.
Sanders cannot win by simply winning more primaries because Clinton leads in three broad categories: 1) She has won more states and pledged delegates, even if she loses every last contest; 2) she has the support of superdelegates; and 3) she has more raw total votes than Sanders.
Still, Sanders' decision to stay until the end represents a view that every primary vote counts. There's nothing wrong with that. Further, if Sanders wants another debate, there's nothing wrong with that, either.
But vowing to continue to the last primary ballot is sipping from the same straw as Trump. With the people's voice having been expressed in the primaries, and having had every chance to woo the superdelegates, if Sanders has lost the committed delegate count going into the convention, how will going down to the last ballot help?
How does a divided party (with almost half of it left holding the idea the winner didn't fairly win), advance Sanders' ideals of genuine economic reform, public education for all through college and ending the corrupting influence of money in politics?
And worse, how will it help Sanders' goals if he ends up keeping a passionate part of the Democratic Party's natural base on the sidelines?
"Opening the party" means a lot of things, including opening up the party to non-Democrats. That's the true meaning of Sanders' demand. No one quarrels with that. It's opened up via the primaries; with a nominee, it will be open to even more voters.
That is, If Sanders doesn't close the door by defying the results of the best, though flawed, primary system in our history.
© 2016, Universal