Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont says that one of his overarching goals is to help defeat presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump this fall. Yet Sanders is being as opaque and cagey as ever regarding his intended role in the general election campaign.
Days after Clinton convincingly wrapped up her claim to the Democratic nomination with 2,800 pledged and superdelegates – 417 more than she will need at the national convention in Philadelphia next month – Sanders refuses to concede defeat or formally endorse Clinton in what is shaping up as one of the most consequential presidential contests in U.S. history.
In a 23-minute speech that was live-streamed to an estimated 218,000 supporters across the country Thursday night, Sanders said he looked forward to working with Clinton to shape their party’s platform and rules more to his liking and to mobilize the millions of young voters who were energized by his calls for income equality and a crackdown on Wall Street and a corrupt campaign finance system.
“The major political task that together we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” he said in a speech delivered from a TV studio in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont. “And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time.”
However, he added, defeating Trump “cannot be our only goal. We must continue our grass-roots efforts to create the America that we know we can become. And we must take that energy into the Democratic National Convention on July 25 in Philadelphia.”
Following a spate of meetings last week between Sanders and party leaders, including President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Sanders appeared to be coming around to a compromise. Then on Tuesday evening, Clinton and Sanders met privately at the Capital Hilton in Washington to begin working out an accommodation.
The most likely scenario is that Sanders will eventually endorse Clinton in return for the opportunity to deliver a prime-time speech at the convention and important concessions on key issues, including raising the minimum wage, campaign finance reform, universal health care, making college more affordable and reducing student debt. Sanders is also likely to press Clinton for concessions on foreign policy issues, especially on the U.S. posture in the Middle East and relations with Israel and the Palestinians.
One indication that Sanders is coming around is a Washington Post report that he has abandoned a threat to lobby superdelegates who are not bound to any candidate to switch their allegiance from Clinton to him. Sanders has argued that he has done far better than Clinton in hypothetical matchups against Trump in national polls and that he would be the stronger Democratic nominee in a tough, no-holds-barred general election contest.
But to do that he would have to convince more than 80 percent of Clinton’s 581 superdelegates to abandon her – a preposterous goal with the party has already solidifying around Clinton. Even some of Sanders’s most prominent backers, including members of the AFL-CIO and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), are now backing Clinton.
Sanders really has no choice but to fall in line, as the stakes for the Democrats in retaining control of the White House and possibly regaining control of the Senate couldn’t be higher. A victory for Trump in November would be a catastrophe for the Democrats. The billionaire businessman has vowed to repeal the heart of the Obama Administration legacy, bar Muslims from entering the country, deport millions of illegal immigrants and build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
With no certainty of how the election will play out, Clinton is counting on Sanders and his millions of liberal Democratic and independent supporters to rally behind her, notwithstanding their many differences over policy and nagging questions about Clinton’s honesty and her mishandling of sensitive emails while she was secretary of state.
Even if Sanders finally gets behind Clinton in a major way, there is no guarantee he could deliver a majority of his supporters to Clinton in the general election. Last month, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that at least 20 percent of Sanders supporters would vote for Trump over Clinton. Other polls have documented even greater animosity towards Clinton among “Bernie or Bust” supporters.
Some of Sanders’s backers are even praying she will be indicted in the email investigation and forced to pull out of the race.
While Sanders used much of his speech Thursday night to reprise his calls for national health care, free college tuition and a redistribution of wealth in the country, most party leaders including the president are far more concerned about the consequences of Trump taking power – and the need for Clinton to prevail in November.
Yet Sanders and his top advisers continue to signal that the fight for the 2016 presidential nomination is far from over, and that he continues to hold out hope for a miracle at the convention. At this point, however, only an indictment could stop Clinton from formally gaining the Democratic nomination.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s loyal and combative campaign manager, insisted Friday morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program that his boss remains an “active candidate” for president, despite his vow to work with Clinton to defeat Trump in the general election.
“Look, Bernie Sanders has been fighting for a progressive agenda his whole life,” Weaver said. “I actually started working for him 30 years ago this month … The issues he’s talking about today are the issues he was talking about back then. And for him, this is really about transforming America; it has always been about that. It’s never been about Bernie Sanders.”
Weaver left no doubt when he was asked to answer, “yes or no” whether Sanders is still running for president: “Yes, he is. Yes, he is. Yes, he is," Weaver said. "He is an active candidate for president, yes."