As the bad feelings between the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders camps continue to get worse, one person worth keeping an eye on is Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He is a Clinton supporter, but he also has a great deal of credibility among economic progressives — he supports breaking up the big banks and has been a longtime critic of trade deals that hurt workers in the industrial Midwest — so he could be well positioned to help unite the warring factions.
In an interview with me today, Brown laid out a kind of template for more level-headed Democrats to follow as this intra-Dem battle gets worse, which looks more and more likely.
Brown flatly said that Sanders has every right to stay in the race through the end of the voting, and even well beyond, and he even said that the Clinton camp should willingly allow the Sanders camp to participate in the drafting of the party platform for the fall campaign. But he also suggested that Sanders had an important role to play in any efforts to foster unity, particularly by encouraging his supporters to be more open to giving Clinton’s economic proposals a fair hearing.
“I think she should work with him on the platform,” Brown told me, adding that their “representatives” should “sit down” and begin the discussions with this: “What do we do to fix Dodd-Frank? First of all, you defend it.”
Brown acknowledged that Clinton was unlikely to flatly agree with Sanders’s call for breaking up the banks, but said one area of common ground could be found around the question of how to strengthen Dodd-Frank’s requirement that big banks submit “living wills” to explain how they’d wind down amid a crisis. Regulators made big news earlier this month when they announced that five big banks’ living wills were insufficient.
“The living will provisions could end up forcing the banks to be smaller a year from now,” Brown said, arguing that talks about the platform could turn on “how do you work that through.” Brown added that Clinton’s plan for Wall Street reform is also worthy of progressives’ support — hers is focused more on reining in shadow banking than on breaking up the big banks.
“Bernie is painted in bright colors, and Hillary is more black and white details,” Brown said. “How you mesh those two is a tricky process.”
That process, Brown said, could be the subject of “discussions and even negotiations” over the platform. “I’d be happy to be in those on behalf of both of them if they’re offering,” Brown said. “I’ll do whatever.”
Brown also said he expected that as the nomination looks within her grasp, Clinton might appeal to Sanders supporters by amplifying her criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and by leaning towards supporting a $15-per-hour minimum wage, which she has increasingly done of late, albeit in a nuanced way that falls short of Sanders’s flat commitment to a national floor at that level.
Aides to Sanders are reportedly pressing the DNC for an influential role over the party platform so it reflects strong positions on Wall Street reform and the $15 minimum wage. Brown conceded to me that Sanders backers might take a lot of convincing before believing that she is strong on their issues.
“If the Bernie people are looking for her to use the same rhetoric he does, that’s not Hillary Clinton,” Brown said. “But when you scratch down, she’s in the right place on all these things.” He also said: “I trust that she will move strongly in the right direction on those issues.”
Brown also said there was no reason for any pressure on Sanders to drop out anytime soon: “It’s important that Bernie support her and say he trusts her on these issues. And I expect Bernie to do that. I don’t expect him to do it before California. I’m not sure I expect him to do it before the convention. And that’s okay. I don’t expect him to drop out. I don’t think he should.”
But Brown also said that if Clinton becomes the nominee, Sanders should encourage his supporters to give her policy positions a fair hearing.
“It’s up to Bernie just to get them to listen and to give her that chance — because I think she’ll convince them,” Brown said. “Bernie’s gotta say, ‘Okay, she doesn’t have my fiery William Jennings Bryan rhetoric. But she does have substance, and she does have plans, and you’ve got to listen to what she’s saying.'” For example, Brown said, Sanders might acknowledge that Clinton is progressive on the minimum wage and on Wall Street reform, if not quite as ambitious as he is.
Right now, the two camps seem deeply irked with one another. At last night’s MSNBC town hall, Sanders seemed to suggest that it’s all on Clinton to win over his supporters if she becomes the nominee, arguing that it will be “incumbent on her to tell millions of people” who have “serious misgivings” about her that she will be better on goals that matter to them. Clinton responded that she had not demanded that Obama meet any “conditions” when she endorsed him in 2008 after a bitter, hard fought primary. And in an interview with Andrew Mitchell earlier today, Clinton senior strategist Joel Benenson pointedly said that the Clinton camp takes Sanders “at his word” that he will do all he can to ensure that a Republican is not elected president.
But Brown said he was confident the two camps would do what is necessary to come together in the end.
“In the end Bernie knows that Hillary will mean progress — not as fast as he wanted, not as dramatic as he wanted, not as colorful as he wanted,” Brown said. “But Bernie wants to move the country in this direction, and would find it abhorrent that any of these right wingers would win. I know how personally he cares about this stuff. And he’s not going to let this get away.”