In an interview with C-SPAN on Wednesday, Bernie Sanders gave his clearest indication yet that his presidential bid is over, saying, “It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee.”
But he still hasn’t suspended his campaign, and he reiterated that he and his team are “negotiating almost every day with the Clinton people” in an effort to get Clinton to “stake out the strongest positions she can” on issues like campaign finance reform, health care, higher education, and the minimum wage.
As I wrote after Sanders gave a speech last week, his change of tone since the California vote had already made clear that he no longer seriously hoped to win the nomination. For instance, he stopped attacking Clinton and stopped talking about any plans to get superdelegates to switch over to his side.
Furthermore, Sanders emphasized how important he felt it is that “Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” and said he intends “to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time.”
Still, Sanders has avoided any of those magic phrases like “suspending my campaign” or “endorsing Secretary Clinton,” and he did so again today. And he’s doing so very deliberately.
Sanders doesn’t want to give up whatever leverage he still has just yet
What’s been going on here is that, as of now, there are still two big things Clinton wants from Sanders.
First, Clinton wants him to end his campaign before the convention so the party will be unified going into it. And second, she wants his enthusiastic endorsement to help mobilize those supporters of his who have so far been reluctant to back her.
But Sanders appears to think that as soon as he gives up either of those things, he’ll lose whatever leverage he still has to push the party in a more progressive direction.
So here’s his strategy: be conciliatory toward Clinton, stop his attacks on her, and make clear they’re on the same team — while also trying to win whatever commitments from her on the platform and her own policies that he can manage to get. Here’s what he said about Clinton in his speech last week:
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Clinton and discuss some of the very important issues facing our country and the Democratic Party. It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues. It is also true that our views are quite close on others.
I look forward, in the coming weeks, to continued discussions between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.
I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors: a party that has the courage to take on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the fossil fuel industry and the other powerful special interests that dominate our political and economic life.
There is a bit of risk in this strategy. Clinton does have enough delegates to win the nomination without Sanders’s help, after all, so she could well just tell him to go pound sand rather than give in to anything he’s asking for.
Furthermore, events of the past few weeks seem to indicate that Sanders has already lost a good deal of his leverage. Several of Sanders’s major endorsers have already switched to Clinton’s side, and media attention has moved on to the Clinton/Trump general election clash (with Elizabeth Warren getting a lot more attention than Sanders in recent weeks).
Still, Sanders apparently is more afraid that once he does drop out and endorse Clinton, she’ll pivot to the general election so quickly that she’ll never have even the slightest reason to care what he thinks about anything for the rest of the campaign. (And, let’s be honest, he’s probably right to be afraid of this.)
So as we enter the month or so before the Democratic convention, that’s the state of affairs: a conciliatory Sanders campaign not trying to win anymore, but still withholding that big endorsement to try to win whatever concessions he can from Clinton. We’ll see how well it works.