Democrats Wonder If Bernie Sanders Could Have Beaten Trump

Nov 11, 2016
Originally published on November 11, 2016 7:06 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And as America continues to absorb the results of this truly historic election, one group of voters may be particularly upset, Bernie Sanders supporters. Some who voted for him still say he was the only Democrat who could have defeated Donald Trump. NPR's Sam Sanders has more.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Philip Werlau (ph) supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. And he says he was never able to get behind Hillary Clinton once she won the nomination, so he didn't vote for her.

PHILIP WERLAU: I voted for Gary Johnson.

SANDERS: He spoke to me on Skype. Werlau says he does not regret his decision. In fact, he used this word to describe his emotions.

WERLAU: Schadenfreude.

SANDERS: That is the German word for taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune.

WERLAU: I feel guilty for that because I don't want Trump to be president. But at the the same time, I'm happy what I perceived as unfair tactics lost.

SANDERS: Unfair tactics - Werlau is talking about the Democratic National Committee. He and a lot of others Sanders supporters thought the system of Democratic primaries favored Clinton and the Democratic Party was conspiring unfairly to elect her.

WERLAU: I kind of lost hope in the election.

SANDERS: Do you think that your vote and votes for Johnson were spoilers in the election?

WERLAU: No, because I wasn't going to vote for Hillary in the first place.

SANDERS: Conventional wisdom was that Clinton could get those disaffected voters back if she moved further left. But for some of them - and maybe enough to swing the election - nothing she could do would win them over. Now, not every Sanders supporter refused to support Clinton. In fact, most Sanders supporters did. Dallas Fowler (ph) is from Los Angeles, and she is one of those Sanders-turned-Clinton voters. But even she wonders, in hindsight, if a precedent-setting Democratic victory with Clinton was too much to ask.

DALLAS FOWLER: We would be setting a precedent as a party, having three consecutive presidential terms. And we would've been setting a precedent as having a woman. And so it was a lot to try to attain in one election.

SANDERS: Fowler says the party needed something different. And she says Sanders could have done it by winning states Clinton never could.

SANDERS: Michigan. I think he also would have done better in Florida, places like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire. The polls that were right about this outcome, in May and June of this year - those same polls had Senator Sanders winning by a 10 percent margin.

SANDERS: And therein lies the rub. Sanders supporters will never have the chance to be proven right - or wrong. But now come the postmortems. Zack Exley was a senior adviser for Bernie Sanders during his campaign. He's the author of a book called "Rules For Revolutionaries." Exley says one of the big reasons Clinton lost was emotional.

ZACK EXLEY: Americans are so angry about their incomes going down for the past 40 years, they wanted to see that anger, you know, reflected in a leader. And Trump had that, and Bernie had that. And Clinton seemed not to know what the rest of us are going through.

SANDERS: Winnie Wong founded the online group People for Bernie. She ended up voting for Clinton after he lost. She says people are hurting right now but Bernie supporters will survive.

WINNIE WONG: We survived Bush. Many of us were children when Reagan was in office, so really, we survived Reagan. And we'll survive Trump.

SANDERS: And then Wong told me she really isn't even focused on Donald Trump right now. She is already looking ahead to Election 2018.

Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.