Sanders Win in Wisconsin: Sign of Union Strength or Union Weakness?

CNN Politics has a story this morning headlined “How Scott Walker helped Bernie Sanders win Wisconsin.” Reporters Gregory Krieg and Martin Savidge noted that voters from union households made up about a quarter of the Democratic electorate, and they went for Sanders by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

Their thesis is the usual trope that union voters are so galvanized by defeat in 2011 they are turning out in droves for Sanders, the most progressive candidate.

This is a weak argument, made weaker by the multiple opportunities these same voters had to get rid of Gov. Walker himself, and failed to do so. But it’s particularly silly today, because virtually all of these voters belong to unions that endorsed Sanders’ opponent.

I’m repeating myself, but the principal reason unions endorse a candidate is not to persuade its own members to vote for him or her. It is to authorize the expenditure of union funds in support of the chosen candidate. Of course they want members to vote for Clinton, but even if they don’t, their money is being spent to encourage others to do so.

The fact that these folks are campaigning and voting for Sanders despite their dues going to the other candidate is a sign of union strength, writ large. They are devoted to his philosophy and are acting accordingly. But it is a sign of weakness for unions as currently constituted. Unions continually remind us that their political endorsements are expressions of the democratic will of the rank-and-file. How can it be that the other guy keeps winning?

The purpose of all this is to elect a President who will feel some sense of obligation and gratitude to the united and loyal interest group that helped provide victory. In that sense, the unions’ 2016 campaign has already been a failure.

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