Clinton Claims Democratic Nomination Over Sanders as General Election Battle With Trump Looms

Tuesday, June 7, was one of the most momentous and turbulent days in recent American political history.

Hillary Clinton claimed the mantle of being the first major party woman presidential nominee in U.S. history. Republican nominee Donald Trump was called a racist by one of the GOP’s top congressional officeholders. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’ populist campaign won two states and waited for the results from delegate-rich California, with Sanders saying, "the struggle continues."

Six states voted Tuesday, with Clinton winning New Jersey earliest, as predicted. She returned to Brooklyn for a celebration that heralded her achievement as one for the ages: the first major party female presumptive presidential nominee since the nation’s founding 240 years ago. She recalled the early suffragists and said she wished her mother could see her today.   

“On the very day my mother was born in Chicago, Congress was passing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution,” said Clinton. “That amendment finally gave women the right to vote, and I really wish my mother could be here tonight… I wish she could see her daughter become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president.”

Clinton’s victory speech came about a half hour before the polls closed in California, where Sanders campaigned for weeks and said a victory in the most delegate-rich state would be the most important milestone to convincing the Democratic Party to choose him as nominee. Shortly thereafter, the White House said Sanders would meet with President Obama on Thursday. When Sanders addressed several thousand supporters shortly before 11pm in Santa Monica, he said, "I had a very kind call with President Obama, and I look forward to working together... I had a very gracious call with Secretary Clinton and congratulated her on her victories tonight." When the crowd started to boo, Sanders interrupted and said, "Our fight is to transform this country and to understand that we are in this together; to understand that all of what we believe is what the majority of people believe, and to understand that the struggle continues."  


California election officials said it might be several days before the final vote count will be known, and did not know whether some 2 million newly registered voters would turn out on Tuesday. However, the evening’s early returns, based on several million votes, had a solid lead for Clinton. With almost 90 percent of precincts reporting, Hillary led with 56 to 43 percent of the vote in California. Many state-based pundits said that would tighten as results from polls across the state were added to the early counts of mailed-in ballots.

On the other side of the country in New York, Clinton began her speech by reflecting on the historic nature of her achievement and then quickly turned to reach out to Sanders' voters. “I want to congratulate Senator Sanders for the extraordinary campaign he has run,” she began. “He has spent his long career in public service fighting for progressive causes and principles, and he has excited millions of voters, especially young people. And let there be no mistake: Senator Sanders, his campaign and the vigorous debate that we’ve had about how to raise incomes, reduce inequalities, increase upward mobility have been very good for the Democratic Party and for America.”

“This has been a hard-fought, deeply felt campaign," she continued. “But whether you supported me, or Senator Sanders, or one of the Republicans, we all need to keep working toward a better, fairer, stronger America. Now I know it never feels good to put your heart into a cause or a candidate you believe in and to come up short. I know that feeling well.”

Clinton’s supporters inside her campaign repeatedly said they were going to give Sanders a few days to digest the results and decide what he would do next. While he spent Tuesday in Los Angeles campaigning as a candidate who expected to triumph in California, Clinton was looking ahead to unite the party to beat Trump, who she said was temperamentally unfit to be president.    

“As we look ahead to the battle that awaits, let’s remember all that unites us,” Clinton said, reciting a list of issues on which she and Sanders agreed. “We all want an economy with more opportunity and less inequality, where Wall Street can never wreck Main Street again. We all want a government that listens to the people, not the power brokers, which means getting unaccountable money out of politics. And we all want a society that is tolerant, inclusive and fair. We all believe that America succeeds when more people share in our prosperity, when more people have a voice in our political system, when more people can contribute to their communities. We believe that cooperation is better than conflict, unity better than division, empowerment is better than resentment, and bridges are better than walls.”

Sanders Faces a Reckoning

Going into Tuesday’s votes in six states, Sanders said he expected to win everywhere except New Jersey. While the final vote tally was not finished in California on Tuesday, he has lost the contests in New Mexico and South Dakota, but won in North Dakota and Montana.

But the real question for Sanders is what he will do both to keep pushing the Democratic Party to the left and to merge his agenda with the party at large and Clinton’s presidential campaign. He is heading to the national convention in Philadelphia with more delegates than any second-place challenger in years. His supporters include the party’s future base, a majority of people under age 45. Key supporters interviewed Tuesday evening, such as RoseAnn DeMoro, the National Nurses United executive director, said her membership was not yet ready to back Clinton.

That sentiment is not unique. However, it is notable that Sanders said he looked forward to working with Obama and vowed that Trump must be stopped. Many in the party expect Sanders will endorse Clinton, though that might not immediately come to pass. On Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, the Democratic Party’s platform committee begins the first of four June meetings. John Zogby, who co-founded the Arab American Institute, told NPR that what matters is not what is contained in the platform but whether the party seriously debates and adopts the ideas that animated Sanders' campaign, such as stepping back from foreign policies that are too quick to embrace military strategies in the world’s overseas trouble spots.       

“He is convinced that the Democrats must change,” Zogby said, saying that part of Sanders’ appeal is his attractiveness to political independents, not just Democrats. “Democrats will rally behind Hillary Clinton. The question is will independents rally behind Hillary Clinton. Trump might be an alternative to some of these people. But Democrats need a candidate and candidacy who will convince them it is not in their interest to put up walls, be hateful, etc.”

When Sanders addressed his supporters in Santa Monica, he vowed to keep fighting for every vote and delegate in the final 2016 primary contest, next Tuesday in Washington, D.C. He was not yet ready to pivot toward Clinton as the nominee, saying instead that what matters most to him is preserving and continuing the movement sparked by the campaign.

"But all of you know that it is more than Bernie; it is all of us together," he said. "What this movement is about is millions of people from coast to coast looking and knowing that we can do much better as a nation... Next Tuesday we continue the fight in the last primary in Washington, D.C. ... And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania... I am pretty good in arithmetic and I know the fight before us is a very steep fight, but we will continue to fight for every vote and delegate."

Sanders then recounted his brief conversations with Obama and Clinton. He concluded, "If this campaign has proven anything, it has proven that millions of Americans are prepared to stand up and fight to make this country a much better place. Thank you all. The struggle continues."

Trump’s Bipolar Campaign

The drama on the Democratic side of the aisle was matched Tuesday by the dysfunction on the GOP side. For several days, Trump has been doubling down on his criticism of a U.S. District Court judge who is overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University. Trump has claimed the judge, who was born in Indiana and is of Mexican descent, is racially biased against him and should recuse himself from the case. The court, as is customary, has released pre-trial filings showing that Trump University employees sought to take advantage of people with limited financial means.     

Trump’s utterances, which he may have believed would create enough pressure to sideline the lawsuit and prevent more damaging disclosures, were repeated on many national TV programs and prompted dozens of Republicans in Congress and governors to harshly criticize him. Earlier Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump's comments “racist” when speaking at a news conference about anti-poverty proposals. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell apparently told the Trump campaign it needs to change its behavior immediately. Former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham said it was the time to dump Trump, and Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk rescinded his endorsement. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who may emerge as Trump's vice-presidential nominee, rushed to the candidate's side for closed-door meetings.

Then, with all eyes watching what appeared to be a Trump meltdown, the GOP nominee announced a hastily arranged speech from one of his golf courses, where instead of retracting his smears against a “Mexican judge,” Trump presented himself as a reborn polished candidate. Reading calmly from a teleprompter (something he said he’d never do), he pledged to unite and “never let down” the GOP. He promised to attack Hillary and Bill Clinton in a major speech next week for supposedly cashing in on their public service. He previewed his attacks by accusing Hillary of turning the State Department into “a private hedge fund” to collect hundreds of millions of dollars—though he has no evidence of this.

Trump’s pivot and latest attacks preempted Clinton’s victory speech and was carried live for 15 minutes on national news networks. He stole many of Sanders' lines, saying the economy is rigged and trade deals are devastating, and urging Sanders’ voters to join him. Thus, within a single day, Trump’s campaign followed an arc from near self-destruction and the candidate being declared a racist by the Speaker of the House, to getting a free national media ride to smear Clinton before her historic speech.

Many national news commentators said GOP officials were relieved that Trump showed self-control and was following a predictable script, instead of noting how staged and inauthentic his performance was. It was obvious that Trump did not write the words he spoke. If anything, this turnaround shows that the coming general election season will be as unhinged as it will be politically vicious.

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