Bernie Sanders earned his first bonafide 2016 victory in New Hampshire Tuesday night. It was a decisive win, too: He beat Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points.
But Sanders’ real triumph Tuesday wasn’t just in the popular vote or the delegate count (13 for Sanders, nine for Clinton, if you’re keeping score) — it was in the speeches he and Clinton gave.
In some ways, Hillary sounded even more like Bernie than Bernie did. She highlighted three of his most recognizable issues — campaign finance reform, breaking up big banks and the high cost of prescription drugs — in her concession speech, claiming them as her own. It was almost as if she was saying to voters: You can have all this, and more, if you elect me. (“More” being either baggage or experience, depending on your viewpoint.)
Bernie hasn’t forced Hillary to the left so much as he’s forced her to address, and embrace, specific issues that are deeply important to him — and clearly to many voters — like lowering the cost of prescription drugs, overturning Citizens United and rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. So while he still has a long road ahead of him to win the presidency, in this way, at least, he’s already won.
Prescription Drugs Prices
Here’s Clinton, in her concession speech Tuesday:
“It isn’t right for a grandmother here in New Hampshire or anywhere else to have to choose between paying rent and buying medicine because a prescription drug company increased the price 4,000 percent overnight.”
The high price of prescription drugs is an issue Sanders has championed for years. He’s spoken on the campaign trail and on the Senate floor about driving elderly breast cancer patients across the Canadian border in the Nineties so they could purchase prescription drugs at a fraction of the price. Here’s Sanders after his big win in New Hampshire:
“We should not be paying by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs at a time — listen to this — when the top three drug companies in this country made $45 billion in profit last year.”
Campaign Finance Reform
Bernie on Tuesday night:
“We can no longer continue to have a campaign finance system in which Wall Street and the billionaire class are able to buy elections.”
Hillary, a few minutes earlier:
“Sen. Sanders and I both want to get secret, unaccountable money out of politics, and let’s remember: Citizens United — one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in our country’s history — was actually a case about a right-wing attack on me and my campaign…. You’re not going to find anybody more committed to aggressive campaign finance reform than me.”
Breaking Up the Big Banks
Hillary on Tuesday:
“When I tell you no bank could be too big to fail and no executive too powerful to jail, you can count on it.”
Sanders didn’t break out his familiar line, “If a bank is too big to fail, then it is too big to exist” in his victory speech. But he didn’t have to — anyone who’s watched a Democratic debate or listened to one of his speeches already knows it. Breaking up the big banks, campaign finance reform, the high cost of prescription drugs: these are Bernie’s issues, and he’s forcing Hillary to make them her issues too.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership
Sanders has long been against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. In April, before its details had even been revealed, he was railing against the “job-killing trade deal” that was “negotiated in secret,” and using tactical maneuvers to delay it from being heard in the Senate.
As secretary of state, Clinton promoted the deal on behalf of the Obama administration, famously calling it “the gold standard in trade agreements” in 2012. It wasn’t until after she became a candidate in May that she broke with the administration’s position and sounded her first note of caution, saying she had “some concerns” about the TPP. In October, after months of ceding the popular issue to Sanders on the campaign trail, she finally came out against it.
Clinton is hearing voters who are worried about Sanders’ position on guns, and she’s reminding them — over and over again — that he voted against the Brady Bill, and for a bill that would grant gunmakers immunity from lawsuits.
The position she’s taking on guns this election is significantly different than the one she took back in 2008, when she talked about her “respect” for the Second Amendment and spoke fondly of going shooting with her father when she was a little girl.
Even Clinton’s new posture on guns is a win for Sanders, though, because he’s changed his mind in a significant way, too. Consider this exchange from a debate in November:
Moderator: “You say that Sen. Sanders took a vote on immunity that you don’t like. Should he be tattooed by a single vote and that ruins all future opinions by him on this issue?”
Clinton: “I would love to see Sen. Sanders join with some of my Senate colleagues that I see in the audience: Let’s reverse the immunity.”
Sanders: “Let’s do more than reverse the immunity.”
Moderator: “Was that a mistake, senator?”
Sanders: “Let me hear if there’s any difference between the secretary and myself. I have voted time and again for background checks, and I want to see it improved and expanded. I want to see us do away with the gun-show loophole. In 1988, I lost an election because I said we should not have assault weapons on the streets of America. I don’t know that there’s any disagreement here.”
One of the most fascinating features of this race has been that at many key points — and on many key issues — instead of accentuating their differences, both Clinton and Sanders have appeared hell-bent on emphasizing how similar their views are.
This serves them both, of course: It helps Sanders battle the characterization that he’s too radical, and Clinton beat back accusations that she’s too conservative. But you could argue that Sanders benefits more from the deal: The more his ideas are accepted as mainstream — the more they’re validated by Clinton — the better he could look next to her to a general electorate.
Sanders doesn’t have a looming indictment (or malicious rumors of one). No one is demanding he turn over transcripts of his paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. And Tuesday’s record numbers prove he can turn out young voters in droves.
The political revolution is happening — maybe even in a way that will be palatable for the general public.