Sen. Bernie Sanders gave a one-word answer to a question at the end of a long interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that Democrats in general, and especially Hillary Clinton supporters, should find reassuring, assuming Sanders meant it. The word was “yes.”
I admire Bernie Sanders. He has long advocated for policies, many of which I agree with, that are outside the acceptable spectrum of mainstream opinion in U.S. politics. By advocating for those policies while making a credible run for the Democratic nomination, he may have widened the pre-existing boundaries of acceptable policy thoughts in U.S. politics.
During his remarkable run, he has stayed positive and substantive, limiting his criticisms of Hillary Clinton mostly to concrete differences of opinion — including his vote against authorizing the Iraq War, which Clinton voted to authorize — and their differences over how to expand health-care coverage and other issues.
When Sanders has criticized Clinton’s conduct, as opposed to her issue positions, I have agreed with his choices. For example, Clinton’s explanations for not releasing the transcripts of her highly compensated speeches to Wall Street firms do not hold water with Sanders or with me.
Energized young people
Sanders has energized a large number of young people, many of whom have not been politically involved in the past. Good for him and good for them. Our country benefits from this involvement and for various reasons (the main reason being that young people tend not to vote but tend to vote for Democrats when they do vote), the Democratic Party benefits from it more than Republicans do. As state Rep. (and Sanders supporter) Frank Hornstein (DFL-Minneapolis) has said, getting young people into the political process is challenge but a big, important goal, as is keeping them involved.
Midway through the primary season it appeared that the Democrats might end up with a colossal problem. Sanders was winning enough primaries that it seemed possible that he would go to the convention with more pledged delegates than Clinton. Clinton has always had a colossal lead among the 715 unpledged superdelegates, many of whom declared their support for her before the primary/caucus season was under way.
Although it’s easy to understand why the kind of mainstream, establishment Democrats who get those reserved delegate slots would prefer Clinton, Sanders has understandably complained about this. If, in the end, Sanders had won most of the elected/pledged delegates but lost the nomination because of the unelected superdelegates, Clinton’s nomination would have been tainted and Sanders’ supporters would have felt justified in rebelling against the whole process, weakening Clinton for the general election and, perhaps, giving those energized young Democrats an excuse to abandon politics.
But that’s not the way things have turned out. By winning all of the nine most populous states (except for the biggest of all, California, which votes Tuesday), Clinton has for all practical purposes clinched a majority of the delegates chosen by primaries and caucuses and still holds an overwhelming lead among superdelegates.
Sanders has declined to withdraw from the contest. A lot of Democrats, especially Clinton enthusiasts, have criticized him for this, arguing that Sanders can do nothing but hurt Clinton’s ultimate chances of beating Donald Trump by postponing the time when she can pivot to her general-election campaign. (Don’t look now, but she has already pivoted. And I, for one, have always been slightly offended by this universally accepted belief that it’s OK for candidates to pretend to be a bit more liberal than they really are during the primaries and then pretend to be a bit more moderate than they really are during the general-election campaign.)
For some weeks now, Clinton supporters have been complaining that Sanders needs to drop out. I have disagreed with them, not only because he was not yet mathematically eliminated and seemed entitled to keep going as long as he had a remotely plausible path to victory, but also because he was maintaining a pretty scrupulous commitment to keeping it civil and substantive and not saying things that would undermine Clinton in the general election.
Furthermore, Clinton backers have a significant stake in keeping Sanders believing that he has been treated fairly so he will make a maximum effort to turn out his supporters for Clinton, knowing that many of them are distinctly unenthusiastic about her.
It’s clear to me now that Sanders has no remaining path to the nomination. His statement this week that “the Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention” is based on the unrealistic belief that a huge number of superdelegates who have long since declared their support for Clinton might switch their support to him. Most of the superdelegates have long preferred Clinton (which he has long known) and are presumably more annoyed with him than ever over his reluctance to concede.
Still, if Sanders doesn’t throw in the towel, the first ballot at the convention will be taken. Not such a big deal.
It’s possible Sanders believes that by remaining technically in the race, he will increase his leverage over the party platform because party leaders will want to keep him happy so he doesn’t cause a fight that will disrupt the convention and/or increase the reluctance of some of his most ardent supporters to close ranks behind Clinton. I have no guess on whether that will work, or what Sanders might get out of it in the content of the platform (a document that, by the way, is of little importance after the day it is adopted).
But however this last tango turns out, Democrats in general and the Clinton wing in particular surely understand that in the fall, when it matters most, Clinton and the party need to have Sanders feeling reasonably good about how he was treated so that he will do everything he can to encourage the Bernie Boosters to work for Clinton or at least vote for her. A various points during the year, he has more or less said he would do this, although I’m not sure how recently he reaffirmed it.
It’s possible the general election will be a rout. Trump just had a terrible week, which included Clinton’s excellent speech attacking him, plus his latest doctrine that no judges of Mexican heritage should be allowed to officiate in lawsuits involving him makes him look more racist, entitled and greedy than ever. But if these recent developments have hurt Trump’s chances, it hasn’t shown up in the polls yet.
It if turns out to be a close race, the willingness of disappointed Sanders voters to close ranks around Clinton will be a significant factor. And that quotient will depend heavily on whether Sanders stays active in encouraging his admirers not to drop out or vote for a minor party. Which leads me back to where I started. Tapper asked Sanders about the so-called Bernie or Bust movement, which is a term for Sanders supporters who say they will refuse to vote for Clinton.
He first asked Sanders whether this was “a palatable position.”
Sanders tried to dodge slightly, talking about how important it would be for Clinton to court those voters and earn their support. But then came the final exchange of the interview, with Sanders’ one-word answer that I advertised at the top of this piece:
TAPPER: But no matter what, are you going to work hard to make sure that Donald Trump loses and the Democratic candidate whether it’s you or her [who] wins?