“Next Tuesday, we continue the fight in the last primary, in Washington, D.C.,” Sanders said, to loud applause. “We are going to fight hard to win the primary in Washington, D.C. And then we take our fight for social, economic, racial, and environmental justice to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania!” That is where the Democratic National Convention will be held, in late July. The crowd reacted with happy relief. Sanders appeared moved by its idealism, as any observer might be. But his plan for Philadelphia is something of a puzzle. Sanders has long said that he would fight for every last primary vote and delegate, but the Times had just reported that the campaign would be laying off much of its staff the next day. The networks had called New Mexico and South Dakota, two other states voting on Tuesday, for Clinton early. (Sanders did win North Dakota and, as he announced from the stage, Montana.) Not long before Sanders went onstage, the White House released a statement saying that President Barack Obama had spoken to both Clinton and Sanders on the phone. The President had “congratulated Secretary Clinton for securing the delegates necessary to clinch the Democratic Nomination,” and “thanked Senator Sanders for energizing millions of Americans.” The statement added, “At Senator Sanders’ request, the President and Senator Sanders will meet at the White House on Thursday to continue their conversation about the significant issues at stake in this election that matter most to America’s working families.” That sounded almost like an exit interview. And other Democrats, well beyond the crowded venue in Santa Monica, were moved on Tuesday night by the knowledge that a woman had, for the first time in American history, laid claim to a major party’s Presidential nomination. (John Cassidy has an account of Clinton’s speech, which, as he notes, was a strong one and praised Sanders in terms similar to Obama’s.)
Early in the speech, before he made his intentions entirely clear, Sanders said, “We will not allow Donald Trump to become President of the United States.” That could have been the prelude to a call to get his supporters ready for Hillary. It wasn’t quite that, as fierce as Sanders was about Trump. “We will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government,” he said. “And that is especially true with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate.” Sanders simply did not believe the American people would support a candidate “whose major theme is bigotry.” But Trump has gotten himself a prominent spot on the general-election ballot, and Sanders, so far, has not.
How could he, when Clinton apparently has all the delegates she needs? The Sanders scenario goes like this: Clinton has only reached the “magic number” of twenty-three hundred and eighty-three if one counts superdelegates (this is hard to avoid, since the Democrats have more than seven hundred superdelegates), who, though they say they are voting for her now, can change their vote at any time up until the roll call at the Convention. The question is why they would do such a thing. Clinton has a majority of the pledged delegates as well, so there isn’t really an argument based on electoral returns. The superdelegates are elected officials and Party functionaries, who overwhelmingly back her and seem unmoved by polls that show Sanders doing better in matchups with Trump. Sanders argues that they could, nonetheless, be talked into it. (“We are on the phone right now,” he told Lester Holt, of NBC, on Tuesday.) Sanders alluded to this exercise in his Santa Monica speech by saying that he was “pretty good at arithmetic” and knew the road was “steep.” It is so steep, at this point, that it requires not a climb but a rocket. What is the potential fuel that the Sanders campaign is looking for—an indictment or some disqualifying scandal? It would be hard to see that as an outcome worth celebrating for any campaign.
Sanders is addressing indisputably valid concerns about money and politics when he talks, as he did in Santa Monica, about “a corrupt campaign-finance system,” and when he says that “democracy is not about billionaires buying elections.” Clinton has made poor choices with regard, for example, to speaking fees she accepted in the period between her departure from the State Department and the declaration of her candidacy. Questions about these subjects are well within the realm of acceptable—indeed, useful—intraparty debate. Sanders has said, correctly, that he has not delved into some of the more gothic—and often fanciful—story lines associated with Clinton, at least not publicly. It will be interesting, and possibly dispiriting, to see if, in the next few weeks, that changes.
Sanders does not control the main ugliness valve, though. Donald Trump, in his victory speech on Tuesday—delivered with the help of a teleprompter, perhaps to stifle his urge to make racist attacks on judges—said, “Hillary Clinton turned the State Department into her private hedge fund.” (He seemed to be using “hedge fund” not in its technical, financial-industry sense but as shorthand for “thing that makes money in complicated ways that I don’t understand.”) Trump said that he would be giving a speech, “probably Monday,” on “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
Things other than the nomination will be fought for in Philadelphia, such as the Democratic Party platform, and maybe that’s what Sanders mainly has in mind when he gets to the Convention, if not sooner. He emphasized that he was still after something bigger than Trump—“transforming our country,” “knowing that we can do much, much better as a nation,” and making health care a right. Also, breaking up the banks and making “the billionaire class and corporate America” pay more taxes.
“What is most extraordinary to me is the fact that in virtually every single state we have won by big numbers the votes of young people,” Sanders said. He believed that young people understood what the country needed, and said he was “enormously optimistic about the future” because of that. And he suggested that, whether or not the campaign has been about him, it has affected him, in ways that may make it hard to walk away. “It has been one of the most moving moments of my life to be out throughout this state on beautiful evenings and seeing thousands and thousands of people coming out,” he said. Many of those young people are, now, also celebrating the presumptive nomination of a woman. At the end of the speech, before walking off the stage to the sound of David Bowie’s “Starman,” Sanders raised his fist and declared, “The struggle continues!” It is a slogan that leaves open the question of which struggle, exactly, and against whom. No one has sole ownership of idealism, or of bitterness, in this campaign. But there can be only one Democratic nominee in the end. Bernie knows that, too.
Author: Amy Davidson