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Opinion Democrats are uniting behind Hillary Clinton, after all

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The New York Times reports that Bernie Sanders is set to endorse Hillary Clinton next week, which is key, since it would take place well in advance of the Democratic convention at the end of the month:

After three weeks of private preparations, Senator Bernie Sanders is expected to endorse Hillary Clinton on Tuesday at a campaign event in New Hampshire, according to three Democrats who have been involved in the planning….
The three Democrats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal confidential conversations, said that the endorsement was partly the result of daily talks between Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, and the Sanders campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, about bringing together the two rivals and advancing the policy priorities of Mr. Sanders….
Mr. Sanders’s endorsement is also expected to ensure that he has a prominent speaking slot at the Democratic convention late this month, the three Democrats said. They added that it was not clear yet when Mr. Sanders would speak or whether the convention would include a full roll-call vote on Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders as candidates for the party’s nomination.

If true, this would appear to indicate that the post-primary process is actually going a lot better than many hand-wringers expected. Though Sanders had declined to endorse and threatened to take the battle to the convention, it has long seemed most plausible that he was mainly interested in trying to win concessions on the party platform and the party’s agenda for as long as possible, not that he would blow up the party if he didn’t get his way.

And this has actually happened: Sanders has won a string of victories in the platform, such as commitments to a $15-per-hour minimum wage; expanding Social Security; making universal health care available as a right through expanding Medicare or a public option; breaking up too-big-to-fail institutions; and a host of other, smaller goals designed to regulate Wall Street, make banking services available to lower income people, and spend more on infrastructure and job creation. Clinton has also agreed to vastly expand her plan for free college, which — along with a Sanders endorsement — should help unite young voters behind her, after a primary in which she really did fail to win their votes in worrying numbers.

To be sure, there is still one big looming fight — on trade. According to his top policy adviser, Warren Gunnels, the campaign has begun a major push to get this language on the Trans-Pacific Partnership added to the platform:

“It is the policy of the Democratic Party that the Trans-Pacific Partnership must not get a vote in this Congress or in future sessions of Congress. Democrats believe that any trade agreement must protect workers and the environment and not undermine access to critically-needed prescription drugs.”

The Sanders camp will try to get this language added when the fight goes to the full convention Platform Committee later this week. There are over 180 people on that committee — 25 picked by the DNC, with the remainder picked by the two campaigns in proportion to the final pledged delegate count. Gunnels tells me that, with all of the Sanders appointees set to vote for this amendment, the Bernie forces need around 20 more from either the DNC or Clinton appointees to win this battle.

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But even if Sanders does not get his way on this point, it does not look like it will hold up an endorsement. As the the Times piece puts it, “this is not seen as a deal breaker to the eventual endorsement.” That’s my sense as well.

In other words, though Sanders’ decision to hold out to secure more in the platform enraged a lot of Democrats, it does not appear to have posed any kind of serious threat to party unity. He has gotten a number of his priorities included and he now looks poised to help unify the party behind her. Though it is certainly possible that the horrifying spectacle of President Donald Trump could have accomplished this, Sanders’s success in getting items added could actually help Clinton, since it could potentially mean more Dem unity and a better showing for her among younger voters.

Indeed, his endorsement could actually matter. The new Pew poll finds that Clinton leads Trump by 51-42 among registered voters nationally. But it also finds that among Dems and Dem leaners who backed Sanders during the primaries, 85 percent plan to vote for Clinton, while a total of 15 percent say they’ll vote for Trump (nine percent) or for someone else (six percent). That means there’s still room for a Sanders endorsement to boost her further against Trump, as a recent survey conducted by veteran Dem pollster Stan Greenberg also found.

There are still outstanding questions. How enthusiastically will Sanders endorse Clinton? Will he make a robust case that she would move the country in the direction of his vision, albeit not as ambitiously or dramatically? Will he make a strong case to his supporters that the outcome of the primaries and the process determining the party’s agenda were legitimate? Provided he does the right thing on all those fronts — and I think he probably will, since he has repeatedly said he will do everything possible to defeat Trump — we may soon be able to declare that, for all the anger and uncertainty it has engendered, this process has actually gone quite well.