Sanders to Lay out Path Forward by Video Thursday Night, but Will True Believers Follow?
Thursday evening, via a nationwide video, Bernie Sanders is likely to bring his improbable campaign for president to an improbable end: urging his millions of supporters to keep their revolution alive by reviving the Democratic Party and defeating Donald Trump.
Whether he uses the E word—endorse Hillary Clinton—or says he's still in the race is beside the point, for it amounts to the same thing. Sanders is not the 2016 Democratic nominee. But he is poised to shape the party’s goals in its platform, retire the role of superdelegates casting one-sixth of the nominating votes and get primetime speaking slots for progressives in Philadelphia.
In the longer run, should the Democrats regain a Senate majority in November, Sanders is poised to return with tremendous influence, chairing the Budget Committee. He’d then either work closely with a Democratic president on spending and priorities, or scold her for not going far enough. Or, should the GOP keep its majority and win the presidency, he could use his grassroots army to be a leading opposition voice.
Sanders telegraphed this was where he was headed after meeting with Clinton Tuesday night. Both issued near-identical statements saying they supported raising wages for working families, campaign finance reform, cutting college costs and student debt, and shaping the platform. Sanders also cited the goal of “making health care universal and accessible” and said the party platform will be progressive.
That was a shift from earlier in the day, when he spoke to reporters outside his headquarters and seemed to be negotiating for a meaningful role before and during the Democratic National Convention. “Somewhere between 1,900 and 2,000 delegates [are going] to Philadelphia,” he said. “They want to see the Democratic Party transformed. They want to see the Democratic Party stand up to the wealthy and powerful and start representing the millions of people who are hurting.”
When he returned to the Senate to address Democrats during their weekly luncheon, his colleagues gave him three standing ovations. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-DE, told the L.A. Times he expected Sanders would play a major role. “He serves on five committees; he's chaired two of them. So it's not as if he's a backbencher,” he said. “He’s had pretty good opportunities to lead, and my guess is if he wants them, he'll have plenty more.”
So what will Sanders say Thursday night in his nationwide online address?
He will surely recite the lines his supporters have heard many times. When he began last spring, he was down 60 points in the polls. Nobody in mainstream media paid heed. When they did, they ridiculed him for being a socialist. He will say that he did what is not advised in national politics; he spoke the truth, about inequality, the gaps between rich and poor and the need to address all forms of injustice. He will say that no solution can come until the federal campaign finance system is overturned.
Sanders will likely point out that his followers and delegates to the Philadelphia convention are mostly under 45 and represent the party’s and the nation’s future. We can expect Sanders to say why he is hopeful his revolution can continue inside the Democratic Party, why his supporters must join him in being a moral compass there, as well as working to defeat Trump.
How he makes that case, and how Bernie believers respond, is what people will be watching for Thursday and afterward. But no matter how that unfolds, it’s worth noting that this resolute, stubborn and now iconic senator who was born in Brooklyn and created a career in Vermont has made an improbable journey to the doorstep of the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
During his decades in political life Sanders has been, above all, astoundingly—if not maddeningly—consistent. In his 1990 speech on the night he was first elected to the House, he wrapped up with words and a message that are not very different from the 2016 campaign:
“I think that maybe one small state might go down in history as being the leading state in the fight for a political revolution… a revolution that takes power away from the multi-nationals and the wealthy and gives it back to the people where it belongs. Tonight is not the end, but it is the beginning. And we will not succeed unless all of us, workers and farmers, and women, and peace activists, environmentalists—independent people, who want to reclaim this nation for all of us, begin to stand up and fight for what is right. And that is what we intend to do.”
Don’t be surprised if Sanders’ words on Thursday night are not very different.