OpEd written by Kerri Barber, Don Ford, and Jimi Sunderland

During the 2020 Presidential cycle the slogan, “Vote Blue No Matter Who” has been championed by Establishment Democrats who point toward the risk of reelecting Trump as justification for what is effectively a coercive tactic. These same individuals espouse the long-debunked narrative that Bernie supporters are responsible for Trump being in the White House.

But with a little investigation, we can determine the truth of these type of narratives.

Vote Blue No Matter Who has its roots before 2020 having manifested in 2016 as a petition in response to another popular Democratic related petition. In this case, the response may have done more damage to the 2016 Democratic Nominee than previously realized. 

The push to support ANY Democratic candidate who may become the nominee, no matter who they were or what policy positions they claimed to support, started as a response to the Bernie or Bust petition and the lack of postmortem on the 2016 presidential race helped these theories run unabated. 

The perpetuation of these fallacies has allowed more division to be sewn on the left by consultants manipulating existing negative sentiment grown during the primary.  For an example of an architect of centrist tactics such as these, look no further than to cross-over consultants such as David Brock.

 We may not be able to associate it with him directly in 2016 but the case can easily be made in 2020. The “Vote Blue No Matter Who” slogan began to roll out again shortly after a meeting coined as, I kid you not, “the Stop Sanders” Breakfast.

When you reflect on this point in 2016, the Bernie or Bust movement was in full swing and the establishment consultants knew, despite what some were saying on twitter,  they needed Bernie’s supporters. 

Instead of actually taking the time to meet the needs of progressives around the country, a phrase was created to simplify and shame anyone who stood against a nominee who had had the cards stacked unfairly in her favor. To be blunt, it was created to drive progressives to vote for a candidate that supported corporate policies instead of progressive ones.

The 2016 primary was ultimately a protest against that exact corruption and fortunately, the DNC agreed. With the passing of the Super Delegate Reform in 2018, it was a small step, but still a step in the right direction—- as it empowers local Democrats to grow their party and have their voices heard before Party leaders cast a vote that could obscure 1000’s of hours of collective volunteer work. 

After having lost over 1200 elected seats, the Party was finally moving toward a future where the divisive ideas that had been losing Democrat their elections might finally be a thing of the past and something only brought up to remind ourselves of what not to do if we want to win.

Unfortunately, this thought process didn’t end in 2016 or begin again organically. Like all things in politics, this was manufactured then and again now.

The “Stop Sanders Breakfast” was reported by the New York Times in April 2019. The article highlighted the high-level Democratic Party members and operatives in attendance. Among the notable attendees at the event were 

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) 
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-MY) 
  • Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg 
  • Consultant David Brock

Not only did they restart the Vote Blue No Matter Who  but they gave new life to the misguided belief that it was the “Bernie or Bust” movement that cost Democrats the 2016 general election. This idea had mostly died out as it was easily disproved in 2017 and after the progressives gains in 2018, was beginning to be thought of as a dark moment in our party’s history many would like to forget.

Now it is true that as early as 2017, comprehensive studies have been released showing that voters in crucial Pivot Counties voted for Obama twice, then Sanders during the primary and then Trump or no vote in 2016. It should be said that the rate of the drop off in 2016 was far less than the amount of Clinton supporters who refused to vote for Obama in 2008.

Based on this statistic alone it would be easy to make a misguided argument that Bernie or Bust voters were responsible for her loss. This single data point by itself does make the case that non-voting Independents did in fact cost Democrats the 2016 General Election

However, the simple fact is… you cannot make an entire conclusion based on a single data point. But Consultants who want to manipulate voting blocks will make you think we can.

But at the end of the day, politics is, after all,  a game of fractions. UMass professor Brian Schaffner released data disputing the Bernie Bro culpability assertion. Schaffner noted that in an election this close, any number of voting blocs could have proved decisive. Schaffner also suggests some voters were in Sanders’s reach that were out of Clinton’s.

“The way to think about this is, as several people have noted, that this election was so close that any number of things could have proved the decisive difference,” Schaffner said.

The pool of eligible voters who chose not to vote is actually a very diverse group that represents many different demographics and areas. Brilliant Maps released startling findings in 2016 highlighting just how much of an issue this really is . 

The largest voting block at 46% now considers themselves Independent. This represents voter’s loss in faith with their party leaders and candidates. Voters are simply making a choice to not cast a vote or are undervoting in key races. 

This “did not vote” group in the 2016 presidential race vastly outnumbered all other votes. That means this group is not a single voting block and the problem exists in both major parties.

If we look at this the way a business views product sales, not only would this usually trigger a change in leadership but it also sends a clear message that consumers are not interested in what either party is trying to sell them.

What began as a “Vote Blue No Matter Who” unity call has now largely faded. Why? What has changed?

The Sanders campaign is gaining momentum with the largest small dollar donation totals, millions of volunteers, and rising poll numbers in key election states, and the former sheep dogging term has transformed into an alarm of panic among the elite and politicos.

If you want to attack this problem directly, the first thing you can do is stop saying these consultants names at all and deny them credit for any activity they may be able to profit from later. 

These consultants aren’t brilliant strategists but are simply opportunists preying on the grassroots for ideas that already have traction and then charging candidates and parties for their overpriced and overstated services. When you give them credit for things they didn’t do it helps them far more than it hurts them. And remember, these types of Consultants have no game in Democrats winning because they get paid either way and as they’ve been heard saying, “business is good when Democrats are losing.”

In addition to that, make sure progressive candidates win by promoting positive interactions and growing your movement both locally and nationally. Ultimately, the true fault lies in the Democratic party’s leadership for putting up uninspired candidates who push a broken status quo that has failed the vast majority of Americans. 

Let’s be reasonable though, perpetuating a “Vote Democrat No Matter Who” is not a flawed approach for Democratic leadership — AFTER THE PRIMARY, many are even required to do so but they do need to recognize they may no longer have independent support. It’s also important to distinguish that this rallying cry during the primary is only the part that we see while behind the scenes it’s accompanied by behavior that discourages critical volunteers, voters, and donors alike. They risk the very critical growth the party needs to recover from the greatest losses in American political history. 

Democrats need to grow the party and they do that by making Independent voters who identify as progressives feel comfortable, not just voting for the party but taking party positions because they don’t just need their votes, they need independent’s time to volunteer, make calls, and knock on doors.

To get their time it matters who the candidate is because these voters don’t just vote blue… it matters who.