Hillary Clinton became the “presumptive nominee” of the Democratic Party Tuesday night, and will be the first woman ever to win the presidential nomination of a major party.
Clinton won primaries in New Jersey, New Mexico and California, the large states at issue. She will finish the primary season having won a majority of the votes cast, a majority of the primaries contested, and a majority of the pledged delegates.
In a clear statement – largely distorted by the media – Bernie Sanders vowed to keep building the movement for change, designating the defeat of Donald Trump as the vital next step.
The Presumptive Nominee
Clinton's pledged delegates will not provide the majority needed to win the nomination because superdelegates constitute 15 percent of the convention votes and have the right to change their minds up until they cast their votes at the convention. With polls showing Sanders running much stronger against Donald Trump, he has every right to lobby those delegates to vote for him.
But with Clinton winning California, and leading in the popular vote and pledged delegates, superdelegates will consolidate behind Clinton. Few progressives think that superdelegates should overturn the choice of a majority of votes cast, even though the Sanders campaign has been growing in strength and appeal. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee of the Democratic Party.
Sanders: The Struggle Continues
Mainstream media coverage of Sanders' early morning speech in Santa Monica was, not surprisingly, utterly distorted. The New York Times painted him as raining on Clinton’s parade, "petulant," "grudging," “messianic,” and quoted grumpy old man David Gergen suggesting that Sanders was becoming "a grumpy old man."
In fact, Sanders' remarks were very carefully drawn and worthy of more accurate reporting.
After thanking the voters and volunteers in California and other states, Sanders began by celebrating what his campaign had accomplished, correctly asserting that in winning the votes of young people by large margins in virtually every state, his campaign captured the future:
“Young people understand that they are the future of America, and they intend to help shape that future. And I am enormously optimistic about the future of our country when so many young people have come on board and understand that our vision, a vision of social justice, economic justice, racial justice, and environmental justice, must be the future of America. Our vision will be the future of America.”
Then he turned immediately to the next challenge for his movement, defeating Donald Trump:
“Our campaign from day one has understood some very basic points and that is first we will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government. And that is especially true with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate. The American people, in my view, will never support a candidate whose major theme is bigotry.”
Defeating Trump, however, is but a step. “Our mission,” Sanders repeated, “is transforming our country,” ending extreme inequality, overturning a “corrupt campaign finance system,” and a “broken criminal justice system.” This mission requires “break up of the major banks on Wall Street, guaranteeing health care to all people as a right, real immigration reform, progressive tax reform."
Sanders called on his supporters to continue building that movement and "that you all know it is more than Bernie."
"What we understand, and what every one of us has always understood, is that real change never occurs from the top on down, always from the bottom on up. ... That is the history of America, whether it is the creation of the trade union movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay movement. And that is what OUR movement is about."
He then vowed to continue the fight in the last primary in the District of Columbia, and “to take our fight for social, economic, racial and environmental justice to Philadelphia,” and the Democratic convention.
He promised to continue to work for “every vote and every delegate we can get,” and then pivoted to announce that he had a “very kind call” from President Obama, looking forward to “working with him to ensure that we move this country forward, and that he’d received a “very gracious call” from Secretary Clinton. “Our fight is to transform our country and to understand that we are in this together….And to understand that the struggle continues.”
Contrary to the media coverage, this is not a defiant speech of a sore loser. It isn’t a declaration of a scorched-earth campaign headed into Philadelphia. It is, I would argue, a clear and compelling argument to his followers: We’ve come a long way; we’ve won the future; we’ll continue to build a movement to transform this country; we’ll take our argument into the platform fight at the convention; and then the first step is to defeat the threat posed by Trump, but that is only the first step.
Clinton, of course, would prefer that Sanders end his campaign and embrace her as the reform leader. But Sanders has been clear from the start: he’s building a movement to challenge a failed establishment and transform the party and the country. He’ll take that fight to Philadelphia and into the general election and beyond. What he signaled in his speech early this morning was that he sees beating Trump as essential to building the movement, and will move “together” to make that happen.
The scurrilous and misleading media coverage is not a surprise. The mainstream media began this campaign with a virtual coronation of Clinton and Bush (H and Jeb!) before a vote was cast. And they ended it by announcing Clinton the winner in outrageous banner headlines before the voting booths even opened on the final major primary day. Those headlines were based on a secret AP canvas of unelected superdelegates, speaking anonymously about their intentions.
The mainstream media ignored Sanders at the beginning of the campaign as he drew record crowds, and dismissed his chances in the middle of the campaign, even as he gained support despite the clamor that the race was over. An insurgent candidate challenging the establishment isn’t likely to get a fair shake from the media or the party, which only reinforces the need to build independent organization and communication networks.
The Clinton-Trump Contrast
Last night featured a stark contrast between the set-piece Clinton and Trump victory speeches. Clinton sensibly celebrated “making history.” Her speech praised Sanders, attacked Trump as a “bully,” drawing a contrast between “building bridges” and “building walls.” It offered a broad statement of contrasting values, but was notably free of substance.
Trump, in contrast, delivered prepared remarks that outlined what his “America First” posture means – in trade, in foreign policy, in energy policy, in economics. His made an explicit appeal to Sanders supporters, echoing Sanders’ indictment of a "rigged" economy and corrupted politics. Ironically, his speech provided clearer policy contrasts than Clinton’s. He sought to make himself the candidate of change, painting Clinton as more of the same. But he stayed in character. He promised a major speech on “the Clintons” next week, teeing up what will be an ugly campaign. Trump ticks off platform planks without policies to back them up. He is, as Clinton repeats, unfit to be president.
Americans are not going to elect Donald Trump president of the United States, no matter what passing polls suggest. But Clinton would be well advised to put forth a bold vision and platform for change. Without that, this campaign will disintegrate into a spitball fight, at which Trump excels.