The bad news for Hillary: It’s almost July and Bernie Sanders still refuses to endorse her. He’s admitted he will vote for her to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, but that’s as far as he has been willing to go as he negotiates with the Clinton campaign over the language of the Democratic platform.
But that’s the only bad news for Hillary, because while Sanders believes it is in his best interest to continue to withhold his support, most of his followers are moving on. An ABC News/Washington Post survey released a few days ago shows Bernie’s supporters are galloping to the Clinton camp at a rate and to a degree that far exceeds the consolidation of Hillary supporters behind Barack Obama after their bitter primary contest in 2008. The survey shows only eight percent of Sanders supporters continue to be #BernieOrBust; one month earlier the figure was twenty percent. This, along with Donald Trump’s bad awful month, has enabled Clinton to open a comfortable and steady lead over her Republican rival.
At the same time, the Sanders and Clinton camps have been making steady progress on finding platform language they can both support, with Sanders claiming some significant victories, including support for a $15 minimum wage, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, raising taxes on the one percent, shutting down private prisons and ending racial profiling, along with two positions that would have been unthinkable six months ago: lifting the cap on Social Security taxes for incomes above $250,000 and breaking up too-big-to-fail financial institutions. These commitments are far more specific than the mushy language that so often populates party platforms.
The Sanders camp is not getting everything it wants, most notably a provision to block the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration, and the language of the draft is not always as robust as they wish. But such is the nature of negotiations, especially in a political system where change usually comes in incremental steps and where the Sanders forces lost their bid for the nomination. Still, the compromise language is noteworthy because despite the ease with which journalists might dismiss the importance of platform promises, this is not an academic exercise. In fact, academics who study campaigns will tell you that candidates actually do try to follow through on their commitments. Hillary Clinton will run on this platform and it will represent a public pledge by Democratic party elites to its voters. Rep. Keith Ellison, the progressive star from Minnesota and a Sanders appointee to the platform committee, labeled the progressive additions to the draft platform “significant” and said they will move the Democratic Party “firmly toward justice, fairness, and inclusion.” He’s probably right.
While the platform negotiations are evolving, Hillary Clinton is making public overtures to the progressive left. On Monday, she went for a vice presidential test drive with Elizabeth Warren, who maintains rock star status in progressive circles, causing the punditariat to go crazy with speculation abut the pros and cons of a Clinton-Warren ticket. Instructively, the Clinton team chose Cincinnati, a traditionally conservative portion of a key swing state, to test the optics of two women engaged in the traditional running mate handclasp. Glowing press coverage of the event served to elevate Warren’s role in unifying the Democratic Party. She has started to eclipse Bernie as the most visible progressive figure in the country, a role she occupied before there was a Bern to feel.
For his part, Sanders has apparently decided that he maintains maximum leverage over the party’s direction by continuing to withhold his endorsement. He has been strongly criticized for this choice, which has boxed him into having to explain why he will vote for Hillary but not endorse her—a position that sounds a lot like Republicans who pledge to support but not endorse their party’s nominee. Bernie is animated by longterm goals to change the country that outstrip the short-term objectives of a particular election cycle, a fact lost on reporters and analysts inclined to see politics in horserace terms. But at some point those goals are jeopardized by failing to acknowledge the obvious. Only Bernie the candidate can decide how best to make the transition to Bernie the movement figure, although sometimes when your troops are moving en masse the best way to demonstrate leadership is to follow them.
This leaves incomplete the delicate work of winning over Sanders and bringing him into the Clinton orbit. Over the next four weeks, the Clinton campaign would like to have Sanders’ endorsement and a plan to deploy him as a surrogate like Elizabeth Warren, who will be an invaluable and effective conduit to progressives whether or not she has a formal place on the ticket. With Warren and the bulk of Bernie’s supporters already behind her, and with the emergence of a decidedly more progressive platform than Democrats have produced in years, Hillary has taken significant steps toward consolidating her base. And she still has another month to get the rest of the job done.
Up next: what’s the matter with Donald?