Here’s what remains true after Tuesday’s primary results: Sen. Bernie Sanders will arrive at the 2016 Democratic Convention in Philadelphia July 25-28 with a large support base, serious money, and the ability to ask for even more money for progressive groups.
This is leverage that he can build on and use. Sufficient delegates to secure the Democratic presidential nomination or not, Sanders has every reason to keep actively campaigning and speaking out until the last primary has concluded.
In The Beginning
Sanders’ campaign began without hope that he would actually become the nominee. Before he announced that he would run Sanders even feared he wouldn’t be able to raise much money or support.
At the time, progressives felt that the “presumptive” and “inevitable” nominee Secretary Hillary Clinton needed:
1) Progressive opposition in the primaries that would force Clinton to take positions more in line with what polling showed most voters (on the left and right) supported. That included such “populist” policies as supporting labor, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), raising the minimum wage and restoring taxes on the wealthy and corporations. (See Populist Majority: Exposing the gulf between American opinion and conventional wisdom.)
This succeeded. Watch this video as Clinton morphs into Sanders:
2) Opposition to “practice” on so she didn’t go into the general election without a few months honing her campaign and message, making her a better candidate. It is not clear how well that has worked out.
What is clear is that Sanders lit a fuse on a gasoline can. He raised $1.5 million on the first day of his campaign and continued raising large amounts of campaign donations. He also began drawing very large crowds to his rallies. He won in several state primaries, and will win more.
Even if he does not receive enough delegates to clinch the nomination, Sanders will arrive at the convention having accomplished more than anyone imagined at the beginning.
Clinton Needs Sanders’ Help
Clinton will need Sanders to not just endorse her but to campaign for her. Following a divisive primary campaign, she will need a healing effort to unite the Democratic Party. Many Sanders supporters feel that Clinton used up a lot of goodwill with what they consider scorched-earth campaign tactics, including misrepresenting Sanders’ positions and accusing Sanders of things like opposing the auto bailout and supporting the racist Minutemen. Many of Sanders’ supporters also blame the campaign for using “red-baiting” tactics.
Clinton will need Sanders’ help as she attempts to undo that damage. This means Sanders will have significant leverage at the convention.
Leverage At The Convention
Sanders has significant support from the progressive wing of the Democratic coalition. During the campaign, Clinton claimed she is a progressive. Sanders is in the position to hold her and the party to the substantive meaning of that claim.
There are many things Sanders can use his considerable leverage to get for progressives and working people.
Sanders can demand such things as real platform positions that help the environment, working people and people of color. He can demand real commitments to have progressives on the transition team, less Wall Street influence in a Clinton administration, an attorney general who will actually prosecute Wall Street fraud and top-level white-collar crime (just imagine!). He and his supporters can extract specific commitments to support organized labor, and get a promise of actual opposition to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership and similar corporate-negotiated trade agreements. They can get Clinton to commit to a trade-negotiating process that puts stakeholders like labor, environmental, consumer and human rights groups st the table. Sanders can also demand that the Democratic Party support progressive candidates for House and Senate seats. He can demand that a Clinton administration not let corporations off from taxes on profits stashed in tax havens.
An Ongoing Movement
Aside from possibly winning the nomination, the Sanders campaign is accomplishing more than just building convention leverage. As long as Sanders is in the campaign and raising money, he is running ads like these in the states:
By the time the primaries wrap up, Sanders will have gotten a populist, progressive message out in all 50 states. He will have run many, many ads and received reasonable news coverage (considering he faces a near-blackout on “mainstream” corporate news outlets). He will have raised tens of millions of dollars and will have the ability to ask his supporters for millions more. This all adds up to the ability to reinforce and amplify the progressive movement.
The members of MoveOn, Democracy for America (DFA), Climate Hawks and other grassroots progressives organizations endorsed Sanders. After the convention, Sanders can use his fundraising and messaging abilities to strengthen these and other organizations, and help them reach a wider audience.
Sanders, his supporters and grassroots groups will be building on his campaign by bolstering progressive movement organizations that will hold a Clinton administration’s feet to the fire for the next four years and push for progressive candidates in 2018.
No Reason To Quit Or Be Quiet
Sanders should keep on raising money, running TV ads and getting his message out to people across the country. He has already amplified and “made mainstream” a badly needed conversation about our economy, and that conversation necessarily flows in favor of We the People.
Sanders is a truth-teller. His campaign isn’t about him; it is about the truth he tells. He is reinforcing a movement that will last, and American politics will never be the same.