As Bernie Sanders has continued to win primaries and caucuses in the Democratic primary, many hard-core Hillary Clinton supporters have called on him to quit the race, arguing that his campaigning, featuring huge rallies of enthusiastic supporters, is somehow hurting Democrats’ chances of defeating Donald Trump.
Hard-core Sanders activists don’t care. They think he can still win – and they think he has a better chance of beating Trump. And they resent what they hear as hectoring from Hillary supporters denigrating the amazing movement the Sanders campaign has inspired.
Secretary Clinton asserts she has already won. But even if she is correct, a big vote for Sanders in the upcoming final primaries could help her and Democrats win the general election against Trump.
Clinton and top people in her campaign have taken a more sophisticated approach than some of her loyalists. While carefully stating Sanders has a perfect right to continue in the primaries that remain, they assert that it is mathematically impossible for him to win. As Clinton told CNN's Chris Cuomo on May 19, "I will be the nominee for my party, Chris. That's already done. There's no way I won't be."
She is probably right. Even Sanders admits he faces “an uphill climb” to win the nomination. In fact, some media organizations may start declaring her the winner before Tuesday – on the basis of delegates won in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico or even based on interviews with the infamous superdelegates. But even as voters in the final primaries start to read the handwriting on the wall – a whole new group of progressive voters come in to play. These are the many Democrats who really like Sanders’ message and agenda for economic change, but who worry that he would not be a strong candidate for the general election. Clinton’s emphatic argument that she has the nomination sewn up suddenly liberates these people to vote for Sanders’ economic message.
Sending Sanders to Philadelphia to Write a Platform That can Help Beat Trump
Big wins by Sanders in the June 7 contests – in Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and the big enchilada in California – will give him the maximum momentum (and number of delegates) to go into the Democratic Convention with the ability to shape the party rules to make the nominating system more democratic – and write a party platform that can help Hillary to defeat Trump in November.
While some warn that a platform written by Sanders delegates would be too radical, the country is in a radical mood. And the ideas Bernie has built his campaign around are hugely popular with the kind of voters Democrats (and Clinton) need to attract in the general election – young people, union members and working-class voters, African Americans, Latinos, and women. Poll after poll (and election after election) throughout the primary season have demonstrated huge support for the issues Sanders has been talking about: reversing economic inequality, big investments in infrastructure and green jobs, the need for a new trade policy, Medicare for all, an end to mass incarceration, and his promise to break up the big banks, for example. These are the messages Democrats and Clinton will need to win the support of Sanders supporters – and the millions of independent and working class voters – they need in order to prevail in November.
Let’s look at a few planks of Bernie’s platform that could help Hillary do battle with Trump.
Opposing Bad Trade Deals: Trump has rallied Rust Belt voters against bad trade deals – from NAFTA to the Korean Free Trade Pact to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – all supported by Democratic presidents. Thanks to the pressure from the Sanders campaign, Clinton has come out against the TPP – while vowing to renegotiate past trade deals. But Trump has a huge opportunity to embarrass Clinton. Imagine: Sometime soon, Trump speaks to a national audience (or sends a tweet):
“Hillary claims she opposes TPP. But immediately after the election Barack Obama will try to pass TPP in a Lame Duck session of Congress. A planned betrayal.”
And unlike most of Trump’s bombastic assertions, this one would be true. If Sanders and his convention delegates (supported by some Clinton supporters) are able to pass a trade resolution, it should read something like this:
“The Democratic Party not only opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we call on President Obama to abandon his plan to seek a vote on TPP in a lame duck session of Congress. And we call on all Democrats to oppose such a lame duck vote.”
Clinton could insulate herself from Trump’s attacks – and make herself a leader in the fight against bad trade policy by making a campaign speech urging President Obama to give up on his Lame Duck strategy to pass TPP. But so far she pretends not to know about Obama’s plans for a vote on the trade deal she opposes – even though Obama has repeated them over and over on his recent trip to Vietnam and Japan. So a Sanders-sponsored trade platform plank would hugely help candidate Clinton to do battle with candidate Trump. And rejection of such a plank would hurt Hillary and all Democrats.
Social Security: Trump has come out strongly against cutting Social Security and Medicare – defying Republican orthodoxy – at least during the buildup to the election. But once again President Obama’s past support for Social Security benefit cuts is hurting her and all Democrats. Although Clinton has rejected these benefit cuts, she has not responded to the movement inside the Democratic Party, led by senators Elizabeth Warren and Sanders, calling for increased benefits for all retirees, paying for this expansion by raising the cap that limits FICA taxes to incomes under $118,500. If Democrats follow Sanders and call for higher Social Security benefits for all, it would “trump” Donald Trump’s loud opposition to benefit cuts. And it would help Clinton win the votes of seniors and younger people without pensions who know they will depend on Social Security for their retirement when the time comes.
A Popular and Progressive Platform to Beat Donald Trump – And Rebuild America
Bernie Sanders has said publicly that, whether he wins the nomination or not, his campaign will go to Philadelphia “with as many delegates as possible to fight for a progressive party platform.” Recent reports indicate Sanders may seek planks on issues that have been gaining him support: a carbon tax and public investment in green energy to address the planetary crisis of climate change and create jobs, support for a $15 minimum wage, universal health care, breaking up big banks, and tuition-free college.
Well before he announced his candidacy, in January 2015, Sanders published an Economic Agenda for America that outlined most of the issues that have fueled the massive popularity of his campaign around the country. He will certainly take many of these issues to the platform committee. But Clinton and her advisers give every indication that they will be flexible and accommodating, not seeking a fight, but instead hoping to show Sanders’ supporters that Democrats are united, not only to defeat Trump, but to make big change.
So the Democratic platform will be important this year for a number of reasons:
1. If Sanders manages to win the nomination, it will be his manifesto to voters.
2. But if Clinton is the nominee, the Democrats can treat the platform as a unity document – a way of showing Sanders supporters they have had a hand in shaping the message the party will take to the voters.
3. If the process produces a strong platform, it will help Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take on and defeat Donald Trump, the dangerous Republican nominee whose election would be a disaster for the economic and social justice in America for the next four years.
Of Course, The Platform has Rarely Meant Much to the Winning Party.
OK, OK, I can see the comments from some Sanders supporters already. So let me answer some of them.
This article assumes Bernie will lose the nomination – but it argues that people should vote for him anyway. If Bernie wins, we are all delighted, and all bets are off.
But Sanders supporters (and I am one) must face the fact that Clinton is very, very likely to win the nomination under the rules Democrats are playing under. If she wins, all Sanders supporters need to quickly get over it and make some fast decisions.
1. The Never Hillary group must decide, do you really want four years of Trump? Because that’s what we get if you don’t vote for Hillary and (ouch) if we don’t work to get others to vote for her. As we all know, if she is the nominee, she is going to need all the help and enthusiasm progressives can muster.
2. Yes, the platform has rarely meant much to either party. An adviser to President Obama recently said they never looked at the thing after he won. But there have been times when the Democratic platform has meant something: In 1948 the civil rights plank in the Democratic platform became one important step in the way-too-slow process of forcing the party to side with people of color and not with the segregationists who were violating their rights. And in 1968, Hubert Humphrey’s failure to call for an end to the war in Vietnam caused way too many progressives to abandon the Democrats – and that led to years more of the killing fields – and gave Nixon the platform to continue to divide the country.
3. No, even the best possible version of the Democratic platform that will be made public in Philadelphia will not be as good as the program Sanders ran on in 2015 and 2016. If Clinton is the Democratic nominee, the platform may help us rally together and defeat Donald Trump – and maybe even help us win back the Senate and the House. But immediately after the election, we will have to find serious ways to build the populist progressive movement that Sanders’ candidacy helped to energize. That movement will have its own platform – and we will use it to rally Americans for the political revolution we all joined together to fight for in the historic 2016 presidential election.
But this week, let’s get as many votes as possible for Bernie Sanders. Then let’s go to Philadelphia and pass a platform that can help us defeat Donald Trump – and then continue building our movement to rebuild America.