Bernie Sanders Knows What He’s Doing and Is Doing It Quite Well

According to Politico, House Democrats booed Bernie Sanders during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, July 6.  They would like him to officially end his presidential campaign and were frustrated that, in response to calls to endorse Hillary Clinton, he stated that his goal “is to transform America,” not just “to win elections.”  This reaction was unsurprising; as Politico noted, “House Democrats overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential primary fight,” and the idea that winning elections might be a means rather than an end “plays better on the campaign trail than in front of a roomful of elected officials.”  Even one of Sanders’ few congressional supporters during the primary, Raul Grijalva, has argued that a Sanders endorsement of Clinton has “got to happen prior to the [Democratic] convention.”

What doesn’t make any sense at all, however, is the argument many of Sanders’ detractors have been advancing for quite some time about why they think he should drop out.  The idea that “he’s squandering the movement he built” by withholding his endorsement (advanced by a “senior Democrat, speaking on the condition of anonymity”) is obviously incorrect, but has been repeated over and over again by numerous journalists and pundits, including:

  • Gabriel Debenedetti and Sahil Kapur, who penned pieces entitled “Sanders loses convention leverage” (for Politico) and “Sanders’ Long Refusal to Endorse Clinton Hurts His Leverage” (for Bloomberg), respectively, on June 17;
  • Joan Walsh, who argued in The Nation on June 27 that “Sanders may…be setting himself up for less influence in Philadelphia, rather than more;”
  • Jamelle Bouie, who contended in Slate on June 28 that “the leverage [Sanders] held at the end of the primary just isn’t there anymore;”
  • Stuart Rothenberg, who wrote in The Washington Post on June 30 that “Sanders is not yet irrelevant[, but] he reached a point weeks ago when his stubbornness became counterproductive;” and
  • Joshua Green, who asserted in Bloomberg on July 7 that “Sanders increasingly looks like an afterthought who’s squandering an historic opportunity.”

Their arguments boil down to the following: The more Sanders waits to endorse Clinton, the more he alienates her team, encouraging them to ignore parts of his platform that they’d be otherwise inclined to support and to rely on other politicians, like Elizabeth Warren, for progressive credibility.  Sanders’ “first and most prominent supporters have jumped off the bandwagon, congratulating and in some cases endorsing Clinton,” Debenedetti notes, and Bouie adds that Sanders has lost his chance to “claim credit” for the “natural movement to Clinton among Democratic primary voters” that has already begun to take place.  Bouie believes Sanders could have taken “a starring role in the campaign against Trump,” opening “the doors to lasting influence,” but in the words of Rothenberg, “Clinton doesn’t need Sanders anymore.” If “Sanders delivers a late or halfhearted endorsement,” Walsh argues, Clinton may even turn to Republicans for votes.

Yet these claims are belied by recent events.  As Jeff Stein observed in Vox, the draft Democratic party platform, released in full on Friday, July 1, “shows Sanders winning on at least six signature issues that reflect long-held goals of his movement…on top of victories Sanders [had] already won over the platform.”  Bouie is right to point out that “Team Sanders…lost out” in platform discussions about “more contentious” issues like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and environmental regulation, and Green isn’t far off when he says the platform is “a purely symbolic document,” but it’s also undoubtedly the case, as Stein notes, that the party is still “moving [Sanders’] way on several key issues.”  Though Politico’s unnamed senior Democrat and Green ignored it, Clinton also just announced a new plan to make college free for families making under $125,000 a year, a proposal that isn’t quite as good as Sanders’ but represents a striking reversal from her earlier campaign rhetoric.

The reason for these concessions is simple: Clinton wants Sanders’ endorsement.  Yes, some Sanders supporters already seem poised to vote for Clinton, but even they often have negative perceptions of her and are unlikely to volunteer and/or donate in the same way they would have if Sanders was the nominee.  Clinton knows that generating the enthusiasm and votes necessary to beat Donald Trump in November would be easier with Sanders on board and the possibility that he won’t be is the best bargaining chip Sanders has got.

If winning more concessions from Clinton is a key objective for Sanders, he’d be crazy to give that chip up prematurely.  It’s hard to believe that Sanders would have secured the gains he already has if he had followed the pundits’ advice and tried to ingratiate himself to Clinton.

At the same time, winning concessions from Clinton is not Sanders’ – or Grijalva’s, or many other Sanders supporters’ – only or even primary goal.  Sanders has explicitly prioritized making “certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” as Bouie pointed out, and Sanders has both said that he will vote for Clinton in November and suggested that an endorsement may be imminent.  That position isn’t unreasonable; though the differences between Trump and Clinton are often overstated, Clinton is undoubtedly the lesser evil facing those who believe in power-balancing policy.  But it also deprives Sanders and his voters of a whole lot of bargaining power.

In fact, Clinton can court a growing list of Republicans not because of the delayed endorsement by Sanders that Walsh has feared, but for precisely the opposite reason: as one Republican strategist has explained, many Sanders supporters “have already shown, by and large, that they’ll fall in line and back” Clinton despite policy positions they dislike.  The loss of bargaining power that pledging to vote for Clinton entails is also apparent in pressure from Wall Street about Clinton’s choice of a running mate: “moderate Democrats in the financial services industry argue that Sanders voters will come on board anyway and that Clinton does not need to pick [Elizabeth] Warren to help her win.”  A commitment to lesser-of-evilsism is indisputably accompanied by a loss of leverage in situations in which you and the candidate you’re backing disagree.

Some Sanders supporters have already decided that a united front against Trump is more important than that leverage.  Others believe that fixing a Democratic party that is seriously broken is a more pressing concern and that the concessions Sanders has won, while not meaningless, are very different than binding commitments Clinton would be likely to adhere to if elected; we wish Sanders had maximized his leverage by seriously entertaining a third-party run.  Sanders, on the other hand, has been attempting to balance his attention to both goals, to influence the Democratic party platform as much as possible without materially affecting the Democrats’ chances in the fall.

It’s perfectly fine to disagree with his relative weighting of priorities.  But let’s stop pretending that he’s making a strategic blunder.  Sanders knows exactly what he’s doing, and despite assertions to the contrary from media and “top Democrats,” he has actually done it quite well.


Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System

41 responses to “Bernie Sanders Knows What He’s Doing and Is Doing It Quite Well

  1. steven zunich

    on top of this. as many as a million sanders supporters will be in philadelphia. he earned, conservatively, 45% or more of the vote and many NEW potential democrats. while the establishment DNC wants a traditional “transition”, these millions of sanders supporters want to participate with bernie sanders involved. this “dissing” that the DNC and HRC supporters have shown The Bern, does not sit well with them. the convention should be an opportunity for the DNC/HRC to show their respect and appreciation not only to senator sanders, but to the millions (13 million +) that have either joined or been reinvigorated because of his campaign. the old guard needs to embrace this chance to welcome the new infusion of youth and energy, or risk losing them, which will not bode well for the future of the democratic party. they are making a horrible miscalculation. they should bring “THE BERN” into the fold and show the voters that the democratic party is again the party of the people, not the corporate elite IF they do NOT demonstrate this, the democratic party will become as weak and fractured as the republicans and a new, stronger, and TRULY progressive third party of the people will emerge headed by sanders or one of the rising young stars he has groomed throughout this campaign. i am one 30+ year democrat who will be leaving the party if the DNC doesn’t start recognizing that over half its party doesn’t agree with the current state of elitism that the democrats have become.

    • Lionlady

      I am one 50+year democrat who will be leaving for the same reason!

    • I am one 50+ year Democrat who will be leaving for the same reason! I’m not “falling in line.” Time to create a new party. Well past time! Sanders has proven to be a canny strategist as well as a politician with integrity. Let’s see how the platform turns out. And let’s see what happens at the convention. He needn’ endorse till then, IF then!


      Right on point. Thank you!

  2. If the establishment democrats remain true to form, there will be riots in Philly, not by Sanders supporters, but by establishment surrogates posing as such. Why? In order to paint those Berners as radicals, sore loosers, and discredit the movement.
    But the movement has grown to big to contain. Forcing millions to choose to be establishment democrats, or leave all together, well, we WILL LEAVE.

  3. It doesn’t matter who Bernie Endorses… what the DNC and this Author fails to realize is that is it is NOT about Bernie Sanders.. it is about the American People and what WE want. We will never vote for Clinton, we will vote 3rd party… SO IF BERNIE WANTS TO BE SURE TRUMP LOSES… Then his best bet would be to run independent with the Green Party or on his own. Voting Bernie or Jill… NEVER the Hill.

  4. Linda Johnson

    I’m not sure where your claim that Bernie supporters have already started “to fall in line”, but we assure you #BernieorBust and #NeverHillary is alive and well

  5. Like the rest of the commenters I will also refuse to vote for Clinton. I plan to be in Philly backing Bernie as long as he will be backing me. It’s a revolution and we did not expect it to be easy. We’re well aware the establishment is very well entrenched in our congress and owns the media used to brainwash the masses. IF somehow Sanders does quit the contest I will forever seek options outside either of these two established corrupt parites we always choose from. Time for a new direction America!


  7. Hirlrng

    One of the most troubling things in this whole process is that people are willing to accept ‘the lesser of two evils’, rather than vote in the best person for the job. It’s a strange reaction to all that has transpired these past several months.

    • It is not strange when the powers that be want it that way and they plan for it. They want people to vote for the lesser of two evils. That is part of the brainwash. It got me for a long time but this year is the first time I am not falling for it.

  8. Screw the DNC, Clinton, and Trump. Many of us will NEVER vote for Clinton.

  9. HRC has proven herself to be a notable and committed liar, with video footage galore documenting her shameless pandering, hemming and hawing, and outright confabulation. #WhichHillary’s tawdry run will one day be reduced to a cautionary tale about presumption and hubris,serving as a reminder that, with the increase in internet accessibility, and the widespread use of social media, candidates would do well to avoid underestimating the intelligence, and interest level, of the American people. #StillSanders #JillNotHill #NeverHillary #NoJusticeNoPeace

  10. Sanity Please

    All that I ask is for those who have commented here to take responsibility for your positions. Yes, Clinton is a flawed candidate and will be a flawed President if given the chance. All Presidents are flawed.

    But if you fail to vote for Clinton and Trump wins, then his Presidency and all that follows will be on you. Yes, there will be other reasons. But if she is not elected Trump will be. You can blame others. You can blame the DNC. You can blame positions she holds that you disagree with. You can blame racists. You can blame Trump. And all of these will have contributed to the disaster unleashed on our nation and the world.

    But you, too, will be to blame. Because your vote counts.

    • Megan

      That’s false. If Trump wins, it’s because the DNC failed to recognize the will of democratic voters and propelled their very weak candidate forward through unsavory means such as voter suppression and fraud. To put her failures on the shoulders of progressives is unconscionable. As much as we might dislike Trump, the RNC recognized that he was who their voters wanted and we’re passionate about. The DNC, however, has lost young voters and risks losing an entire generation of potential democrats who will turn independent. All for the short term gain of a first-female presidency.

    • But Seriously Folks....

      There is no lesser of two evils between Clinton and Trump. If forced to decide between them I would choose Trump’s ugliness over Clinton’s more sinister rot. Of the two he will be somewhat easier to thwart once office is attained.

    • I’ll take Trump’s buffoonery over Clinton’s lies, election-rigging, warmongering, and corruption. She doesn’t just have blood on her hands; she’s swimming in it. If refusing to vote for her results in Trump’s victory, so be it. He is the lesser evil.

      That said, if Bernie runs on the Green Party ticket he stands a real chance of winning or at least growing the Greens into a major party. Either result would be a great boon to our nation.

    • The Breach Awaits

      Our votes, alas, do NOT count.

      Like many progressives, I was bewildered by the concerted vilification of Sanders’s supporters by the HRC campaign last fall. I believed that the Democratic party was making a serious mistake, alienating voters whose support they would need in the general election. This primary season has made it clear that the DNC is not interested in our votes; their strategy is to manufacture whatever outcome they desire. By embracing massive election fraud and blatant corruption, they have freed us to vote our conscience without any guilt at all.

  11. Reblogged this on delegatechronicle and commented:

  12. Walsh et. al. wanted Sanders to endorse early precisely because they wanted to minimize his leverage. They were hostile to his campaign and pro-Clinton from day one and actively race-baited him in summer of 2015. Why would anyone take strategic advice from their enemies?

    • Good point – almost all of these articles have come from Clinton supporters.

      • Rumor has it that the endorsement will come on Tuesday (tomorrow) at a joint event. I was hoping he would fight and fight and fight on into convention. I really don’t know what his calculation is but it’s going to demoralize and demotivate his supporters to endorse before convention. The only way I can see us staying motivated and engaged is if he promises to fight hard against TPP from the convention floor.

  13. loomiswebb

    HRC and DNC are doing nothing for Bernie, nothing for us. That $15 minimum wage “over time” if you live that long was intellectually insulting. They’re deliberately screwing with Bernie and they’re so giddy with what they perceive as their inevitability that they’re prematurely showing their hand. Good. I think it’s important to show people whose side Hillary is really on. It’s sure as hell not our side.

  14. Aimee

    I’ve been voting for a LONG time, mostly Democrat but sometimes Independent or 3rd party. I go for the candidate whose ideology resonates best with mine, someone who presents a platform representing the PEOPLE and not merely financial interests or corporations. Crony capitalism is decimating our country and frankly I’ve had enough of it. Bernie has shown that politicians don’t have to cozy up to Wall Street or corporate lobbyists. Their influence and greed has become pathological and is now in the process of destroying what’s left of our democracy and the middle class. I will NEVER vote for a candidate who is a paid shill for these monsters. Count me #BernieOrBust

  15. I will never, never vote for Hillary, although I too have been a Democrat for many years, since1961. I have voted for many “lesser evils,” but none was anywhere near as evil as the Clintons. I do not believe the platform will matter at all to Hillary, and I am extremely disappointed that Bernie is not putting his energy into being the Green party candidate. It was shocking to me that he answered yes to the question as to whether she won “fair and square.” We all know she did not and that we can expect the national election to be fixed as well. Reluctantly, when I learned he will be endorsing Hillary as well, I unsubscribed from his emails and will be voting Green from now on. Trump is so ineffective and lazy that I feel the rest of the government will probably control him.

    I am also radically cutting the time I spend reading about politics, as it is all too depressing and hopeless, and at 76 I have high blood pressure. I do hope that young people, who are able to be active in ways I cannot, will continue to work for a revolution; it all seems to me so much like the sixties and seventies, which did accomplish so much for women and minorities, but which also eventually discouraged me too, when it ended with Ronald Reagan. At that time, and up until recently, I became an active environmentalist, because at least there one can find hands-on ways to make something better.

    • I am sorry you are feeling disillusioned – I understand where you’re coming from and am glad you plan to vote Green but hope you will stay involved, as we need your passion! I agree that politics are discouraging sometimes but also think we should remember that, as you note about the sixties and seventies, we can make changes that matter for people if we keep up our advocacy.

  16. I am anti-Hillary. I think of the three candidates, Hillary is the worst and Trump is the best.
    That said, I think that this is a unique time in US history. The Trump nomination is non-establishment and they are somewhat divided BUT I think in the Left the divide is not simply two candidates but that of Progressive and moderate Liberals.
    Bernie supporters are enthusiastic and embracing his “political revolution”. They have done far more than anyone else to get him where he is AND fallen short. Fallen short in a rigged system against a heavily weighted and influenced establishment machine.
    Maybe without the bias and election fraud and so forth, he may have got across the line but he didn’t.
    I believe that come the end of the July convention, its over for his political revolution. Whatever promises Hillary gives for the endorsement will be discarded and she will dismiss him out of hand. He will endorse her and vote for her and many of his voters will. The rest will feel gutted and vote for him (ineligibly) or not vote in the general election. It will not matter. Hillary has a strong base and will be happy will what she can extract from his supporters.
    But what if it did not have to stop there? What if he joined the Green Party ticket and encouraged all of his voters to work through that ticket to get Jill on all states, in return for her pushing his Progressive values (that are practically ideologically aligned)? Imagine that? She has maybe 4% and boosting her numbers there would probably push her far higher than the expected Johnson numbers of 10%..
    At 15%-25% Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders would NOT win the election BUT an obscure party would suddenly be in a strong position to negotiate and broker deals with the other two parties. They would effectively be a 3 party state. They would not be bullied around or accountable to the democrats and would be a powerful political activist voice.
    To be honest I do not think I would ever want them in Government BUT I think the idea of them having a strong voice to counter policies and balance the two parties would be great.
    I think on it like this. If you are a parent, you may want the world to be good to your children and to give them everything and not allow them to suffer or be unhappy. You may want to coddle them and protect them from the results of their own actions. Alternatively you may instead be a disciplinarian that is value driven. You want your children to learn about adversity and manners and to learn to fail and to get up and try again until they succeed.
    Clearly these are both extremes and both have very good elements and very bad elements despite their polarisation. I consider that the best parent would be someone somewhere between these two values. I consider the former very Sanderesque whereas the latter is more conservative.
    I think having a third party would be a great sounding board for both parties. By using this year to set things up and the next 4 years to develop the new green party, it could really be a three party Presidential consideration for future generations and the establishment would be on notice, the Clintons would too and the system,would be overhauled.

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