With the disclosure that he is scaling back his campaign organization by 200 or more workers, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Wednesday began shifting from a Democratic presidential candidate to how to place his distinctive liberal stamp on the party’s platform this summer.
Just a day after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton soundly defeated Sanders in four out of five important primary contests in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and all but sewed up the nomination, Sanders told The New York Times that his goal was to beef up his delegate count to enhance his standing at the convention.
Sanders said that if he could somehow beat out Clinton in delegate-rich California in the primary finale June 7, “it will send a real message to the American people and to the delegates that this is a campaign moving in the direction it should,” he told The Times.
The tactical contrast between the Sanders and Clinton campaigns at this point couldn’t be sharper: Clinton and the Democratic party have begun preparing for an almost certain bruising general election battle this fall with Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump while Sanders and his advisers are charting ways to maximize their influence in policy making at the July national convention in Philadelphia.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that Clinton’s campaign has teamed up with state and national Democratic organizations in the three key battleground states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia to organize thousands of volunteers, register tens of thousands of voters and raise money to combat the GOP nominee this fall. With her big wins this week in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and Delaware, Clinton currently holds 2,165 of the 2,383 delegates she needs to secure the nomination, while Sanders has only 1,357.
Aides to Sanders reportedly have been pressing Democratic party officials for a major role in writing the platform for the convention, including strong liberal planks on issues like breaking up “too big to fail” Wall Street banks, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 a hour, providing free college tuition at public universities and colleges, expanding Social Security benefits and banning natural gas “fracking.”
Since the start of the campaign last year, Sanders, a democratic socialist seeking a major political “revolution” to end income inequality and crack down on the excesses of Wall Street, has forced the more moderate Clinton to move significantly to the left on many of her positions – sometimes at variance with the policies of her chief patron, President Obama.
There are deep divisions within the party over policy issues, and many of Sanders’ more youthful and ideologically committed supporters have said there is no way they could support Clinton in the general election – even against Trump. Sanders will be guaranteed a prime time slot to make a major address to the convention, and will be given substantial leeway in setting the tone of the gathering.
Clinton will have little choice but to accommodate Sanders on many key issues, to prevent some liberals from protesting or even walking out of the convention. But while party unity will be an important goal, Clinton also must be careful not to shift so far to the left that she will be saddled with untenable positions on spending, taxes, and campaign reform that puts her at a major disadvantage during the fall campaign.
If necessary, the Clinton forces will be in a strong position to block any policy proposals that would be difficult to defend in the general election campaign. In January, the party chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, appointed dozens of Clinton supporters to the three standing committees of the convention, including platform and rules. Of 45 potential members submitted by Sanders, she appointed just three.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, a top Clinton supporter, was tapped as co-chairman of the policy-writing platform committee, while former Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation and a sharp critic of Sanders’s Wall Street reform proposals, will be the co-chair of the rules committee, which governs floor procedures at the convention.
“The Democratic convention can and should be more than a coronation,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the liberal magazine The Nation, recently wrote. “With the rules and platform committee already stacked with Clinton supporters, it will be important to make sure the issues that Sanders has injected into the debate are fairly reflected in the party’s agenda.”
Sanders bridles at suggestions by the news media that he should drop out of the race now and throw his support to Clinton, or at least dramatically soften the tone of his criticism of her judgment, to avoid handing Trump more ammunition to use against her this fall.
Trump in fact has begun quoting Sanders at campaign events and press conferences, saying that he agrees with the Vermont senator that Clinton has shown bad judgement on Iraq and other areas.
Sanders dismissed the notion that he was helping Trump and the Republicans by feeding them lines about Clinton’s integrity and judgment as a national leader, saying during an interview Thursday with Chris Jansing of MSNBC that the GOP has plenty of opposition-researchers and “they don’t need my speeches to talk about Hillary Clinton. They will go after Hillary Clinton, by the way, in ways that I have never, ever gone after Hillary Clinton.”
“This is called a democracy,” Sanders said in defending his continued tough attacks. “Why am I running for president, what should I do? I should be talking about what I believe and the differences of opinion I have with Hillary Clinton.”
“Now if the question is, are my views much closer to Hillary Clinton’s than to somebody like Donald Trump, of course they are,” he added. “Now I will do everything that I can – I think Hillary Clinton and I agree on this – that we will do everything we can to make sure a Republican does not win the White House….”