For Republicans in California, Tuesday’s presidential primary will be an excruciatingly empty exercise: Donald Trump has disposed of his rivals and is assured of the party’s nomination. But the Democratic primary – which is open to registered Democrats and voters with no party preference – remains closely contested.
This will be the most populous and among the last states to vote, giving extra symbolic heft to the dramatic clash here between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont. Despite the many points of agreement between the two, they have come to epitomize the long-running and occasionally bitter battle within the party between idealistic liberals (championed by Sanders) and the party’s more pragmatic, moderate establishment (embodied by Clinton).
Both candidates have campaigned aggressively in the state despite its lateness on the campaign calendar and Clinton’s nearly insurmountable lead in delegates. A first-place finish in California would enable Clinton to strengthen her moral as well as mathematical claim to the nomination. But if Sanders were to prevail, even narrowly, he would be emboldened in his effort to convince so-called super-delegates to shift their support from Clinton to him.
That is a long-shot campaign even if Sanders finishes first in California, not because the nomination process is rigged in Clinton’s favor -- it isn’t – but because she has been more successful in appealing to voters. She has dominated the primaries, amassing 3 million more votes than Sanders (who has fared much better in caucuses) and she leads in pledged delegates. For that reason, some argue that Sanders supporters in this state should resign themselves to the inevitable and vote for Clinton on Tuesday.
We don’t agree. Voters should choose the candidate they consider best qualified. This page has endorsed Clinton not because she is more likely to win the nomination but because she is vastly better prepared than Sanders for the presidency.
We say that with full recognition that Sanders has captured the imagination of many Democrats with his articulate attacks on economic inequality and his talk of a political revolution. He can take credit for pressing Clinton to champion the interests of those who have been left behind in this economy.
But Clinton is not only more knowledgeable about domestic and international affairs than Sanders, but also more likely to achieve objectives they have in common. Her speech last week on foreign policy in San Diego -- in which she skillfully skewered Trump for his ignorance and recklessness -- was a reminder of the breadth of her understanding of international affairs. On domestic policy, her positions on issues such as healthcare and financial regulation are less utopian than what Sanders has proposed but also more realistic.
Some compare Sanders to President Obama, and there are similarities: Like Obama, Sanders opposed the war in Iraq while Clinton as a senator voted to authorize it. Sanders speaks in visionary terms and so did Obama in 2008 when he wrested the nomination from then-Sen. Clinton. But Obama’s vision was of bipartisan cooperation, not a political revolution in which, as Sanders has naively suggested, Republicans would simply capitulate to a Democratic president because a million young people would be massed outside the Capitol.
It’s true that Republicans often rebuffed Obama’s offers of cooperation, but it’s hard to imagine a President Sanders engaging any more successfully with them. Clinton, who as a senator and secretary of State was able to work cooperatively with Republicans, strikes us as being better equipped to reach across the partisan divide, something that will be necessary even if the Democrats regain control of Congress. A Clinton presidency would be more prosaic than a Sanders administration, but it also is likely to be more effective.
Clinton has her liabilities as a candidate, including a penchant for secrecy and self-protection that was reflected in her decision to maintain a private email server as secretary of State and her continued refusal to acknowledge that it ran afoul of State Department policy. In a year in which many voters crave novelty, she is a familiar face. But she has formidable assets that would be especially important in a general-election campaign against Trump: steadiness, seriousness and a commanding grasp of issues about which the blowhard businessman is dangerously ignorant.
Voters in California’s Democratic primary owe a debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders for a campaign that has emphasized issues that otherwise might have been ignored. But they should cast their votes for Hillary Clinton.