In his speech to supporters last night, Bernie Sanders declared that “in a very short period of time,” he would begin devoting himself to making sure Donald Trump is “defeated very badly,” a task he cast as urgent. But he stopped short of endorsing Hillary Clinton, said the next stop for his revolution’s quest to transform America is the Democratic convention, and added that he looks forward to discussions “in the coming weeks” between the two campaigns to ensure that the party’s platform is truly progressive.
Sahil Kapur reports today that many Democrats, including even some supporters of Sanders, argue that he risks squandering whatever leverage he has built up by continuing to delay his endorsement of Clinton. As Dem Rep. Peter Welch, a supporter of Sanders, puts it:
“Some believe — and it appears this is Bernie’s view — that the longer he stays in, the more effective he’ll be in negotiating. My view is that the sooner we get unified the better,” Welch said on Thursday before Sanders spoke. “Bernie doesn’t give up any leverage by acknowledging explicitly that Hillary will be the nominee.”
Other Democrats argue the same. As one puts it, Sanders’ leverage is “dissipating every day.”
I’m having a lot of trouble getting worked up over this.
It is true, as Matthew Yglesias says, that Sanders’s speech did contain some elements that legitimately annoyed Democratic leaders. Sanders did suggest that only he and his movement can ensure that the Democratic Party becomes a “party of working people” and “not just wealthy campaign contributors,” and a party with the “courage” to take on special interests, as if lots and lots of Democrats have not been working incredibly hard for years to pass things like Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and to defend Obama’s actions on climate change. This is of a piece with Sanders’ broader tendency to be too dismissive of the gains of the Obama years, and too simplistic in his accounting for why Democrats did not accomplish more than they did.
On the other hand, Sanders did accomplish a great deal in the last year. If he wants a little time to try to translate that achievement into some form of lasting influence, well, so what?
This is a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont who launched a campaign in a manner that was so impromptu — he actually said he had to hurry it up because he had other stuff to do — that reporters practically laughed in his face. He started at low single digits in the polls and went on to win 12 million votes, 22 states, and 45 percent of the pledged delegates against one of the most formidable figures in the last generation of Democratic politics, a global icon who has been First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. He outraised Clinton with a focus on small-dollar donations that set a standard for grassroots engagement that will probably be studied by future campaigns.
It’s hard to argue with much of the broader message that he delivered to his supporters yesterday. He reminded them that his campaign has been all about shifting the conversation in a dramatic way, so that it is no longer seen as beyond the boundaries of acceptable discourse to advocate for a retirement with dignity in the form of expanded Social Security benefits, a commitment to universal health care in keeping with other major industrialized countries, and real opportunity in the form of a college education as a matter of right. He also made a robust pitch to young people to get involved in public service for the long haul, and made an affirmative case for government’s “enormously important role” in, well, preserving human civilization. Whatever Sanders’s flaws, it is a positive that he continues to try to engage millions of his supporters in our politics on these terms.
It’s not entirely clear to me what Sanders thinks he is accomplishing by holding back his endorsement. But it’s also not clear why this is cause for any alarm. Negotiations are ongoing between the Sanders and Clinton camps. While I don’t have any clear sense of what the end product will look like, they probably won’t have that much trouble working out compromises on the platform, on process, and on Sanders’ involvement going forward that do not require too much from Clinton but also allow Sanders to argue to his supporters that the outcome of the process was legitimate and that their movement has a role to play in the party’s future. I don’t sense any panic about this coming from the Clinton camp.
Obviously Sanders shouldn’t let this drag on too long. One hopes he won’t force any divisive convention scenarios or somehow hold back from persuading his supporters that a President Clinton will move the country in the direction of his vision, if not quite as quickly as he would. Meanwhile, however, it’s perfectly plausible that he thinks slow-walking things a bit right now could help bring along his supporters more effectively by persuading them a legitimate process is unfolding.
“Protecting the movement is a priority to Bernie, and he should do that,” Dem Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Bernie supporter who has now endorsed Clinton, tells me. If he moves too quickly now, Grijalva said, “people will jump to the conclusion that this rigged system includes his campaign. He needs to be careful. What he did yesterday is important. He let his supporters know that he is still fighting on their issues.”
But Grijalva added: “There’s a point at which it’s too late, too. I don’t know where that point is. But I would hope that before the convention, we’ve resolved the platform issues, integrated Bernie’s delegates, and figured out a respectful and significant role for Bernie. That requires Bernie to indicate public support for Clinton.”
That seems like the right balance.