The Democratic presidential primaries ended two weeks ago today. Bernie Sanders is still kind of, sort of running for the nomination, despite the fact he has lost -- by every possible metric -- to Hillary Clinton.
Clinton and her campaign have been generally fine with all of this, pivoting to the general election and assuming the Sanders thing would work itself out.
That approach may change after the interview Sanders gave to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday. It was by turns baffling and surreal. But, most of all, it was remarkably condescending. This exchange is all you need to know to understand why the whole thing was so bad for Sanders:
MITCHELL: In our polling today, in our NBC News survey, Monkey Online poll, there's an eight-point spread. Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump, but single digits, and not a big wave behind her, also in her NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. So this could be a very close race. How long are you going to wait before you make a decision about endorsement? Will you decide before -- ?
SANDERS: I think -- you're asking, I think, with all due respect, Andrea, the wrong question. It's not a question of my endorsement. It's a question of the American people understanding that Secretary Clinton is prepared to stand with them as they work longer hours for low wages, as they cannot afford health care, as their kids can't afford to go to college. Make it clear that she is on their side, that she is prepared to take on Wall Street, the drug companies, fossil fuel industry. Deal with the global crisis of climate change. I have no doubt that if Secretary Clinton makes that position, those positions clear, she will defeat Trump and defeat him by a very wide margin.
That's a stunning answer from Sanders. What he's saying -- if you read between the lines -- is that the ball is in Clinton's court when it comes to winning his endorsement. Not only does he think she needs to come to him, but he also believes she still has to prove that she is "prepared to stand with them [the American people], as they work longer hours for low wages, as they cannot afford health care, as their kids can't afford to go to college."
Now seems like a good time to revisit the fact that Clinton has already effectively won the Democratic nomination over Sanders, not the other way around. It's good to remind yourself of that fact because from reading Sanders's quote above, you would assume he won.
That was far from the only condescending/deeply unrealistic thing Sanders had to say about Clinton in his interview with Mitchell.
Here's his answer to why he has been reluctant to endorse Clinton given that he has said he will vote for her and that he will do whatever it takes to keep Donald Trump from being president:
I think many people -- I would respectfully disagree and suggest that many people do understand. Our job is to transform America, to end the 40-year decline of the American middle class. That is what I am fighting to do. And we are in that process right now. We did very well, I thought, in St. Louis, in terms of the first meeting of the platform committee. Now we go to Orlando, and then we go to the floor of the Democratic Convention. Politics is not a baseball game with winners or losers. What politics is about is whether we protect the needs of millions of people in this country who are hurting. That is my focus. And my job right now is to make the Democratic Party as open, as inclusive, as progressive as it possibly can be, and that's what we're working on as we speak.
Again, the belief undergirding Sanders's comments is that he alone -- and, therefore, not Clinton -- is the person who can bring transformational change to end the "decline of the American middle class." That Clinton is either insufficiently committed to doing so or simply incapable of bringing that sort of change about. That she sees politics as "a baseball game of winners and losers" while he sees it as "protect[ing] the needs of millions of people in this country who are hurting."
And, just in case you missed that point, Bernie made it again with Mitchell:
To me, what politics is about is not just electing candidates. It's about transforming this country, about dealing with the decline of the American middle class, and massive levels of income and wealth inequality, dealing with climate change, dealing with the need to make sure that all of our young people have the opportunity to go to college, when we make public colleges and universities tuition free. Those are issues that have to be dealt with, in my mind, by the Democratic platform and by Secretary Clinton, and we look forward to working with the Clinton campaign to bring that forward.
The contrast is remarkable: Sanders as white knight operating from conviction and righteousness, Clinton as craven politician doing and saying whatever it takes to win.
I can only imagine the reaction in Clinton headquarters watching that Sanders interview. (I would pay money to watch Clinton's reaction when/if she is shown it.)
The Clinton team has been willing to allow Sanders his extended time in the limelight mostly because (a) they don't think it hurts her in any measurable way for the fall campaign, and (b) they don't want to anger his backers unnecessarily.
But, Sanders's condescension toward and dismissiveness of Clinton in the Mitchell interview was striking. It's hard for me to imagine Clinton, her allies and the broader Democratic Party remain as accepting of Sanders's continued candidacy if he keeps up anything like that sort of rhetoric.