Published: Salon (February 11, 2016)
With his New Hampshire primary victory now in the books, Bernie Sanders has done more than simply guarantee that Hillary Clinton won’t have a free ride to the Democratic nomination. Indeed, even if Clinton ultimately bests Sanders in the upcoming primaries, the Vermont senator has still achieved something of lasting significance:
He is the first Jewish American to win a presidential primary.
This isn’t to say that he is the first American of Jewish descent to win a presidential primary. That distinction belongs to Barry Goldwater, an arch-conservative Arizona senator who upset the GOP establishment by winning the Republican presidential nomination in 1964. Although his father was ethnically Jewish, however, Goldwater himself had been raised as an Episcopalian by a devoutly religious mother. Despite never denying or apologizing for his Jewish background, Goldwater didn’t identify with it either during his politically active days, prompting one journalist to quip, “Somehow I always knew that our first Jewish president would be an Episcopalian.” Regardless of whether or not one considers Goldwater to have been a Jew, though, it is clear that Jewish voters did not embrace his values or want them implemented in the White House: Goldwater pulled in only 10 percent of the Jewish vote against President Lyndon Johnson that year, a historic shellacking within that demographic that no major party candidate has matched in more than 50 years since.