As the Democratic Convention looms nearer, it’s understandable that many Democrats are eager for Bernie Sanders to drop out quickly and endorse presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton. The prospect of a Trump presidency is so frightening for some that any continued intra-party disputes can seem irresponsible. There are some in the Clinton camp who even accuse of Sanders of sabotaging the Democratic Party’s prospects in the fall by continuing to hold out for so long.
There are also those within Sanders’ camp who worry that with every day he doesn’t endorse Clinton, his leverage to demand changes from the party establishment shrinks.
But these worries overestimate the danger to Democratic chances from actions taken in the middle of June, and underestimate the potential of the movement spearheaded by Sanders to make real change in the party infrastructure.
Just as polls in June have very little bearing on outcomes in November, so too do intra-party squabbles. At this time in 2008 the press was obsessed over the so-called “PUMA” movement of Clinton dead-enders and whether it would be enough to cost Obama the election against McCain. It’s entirely possible that had the election been held in June, the effect might have been significant. But months of the focused partisan battle between Obama and McCain (and, it must be said, Sarah Palin) convinced the vast majority of Clinton’s voters of the need to hold the line for the Democratic Party at all costs even if they harbored lingering resentments. So too will it be with Clinton, Trump and the vast majority of Sanders’ voters. There is no need for Sanders to rush his endorsement of Clinton in order to produce an outcome that defeats Trump.
There is also the problem that Sanders endorsing her too early might be counterproductive even to establishment goals. Greg Sargent perhaps put it best in noting that there’s no big hurry for Sanders to make a move: the convention is a month away, negotiations with the Clinton team are ongoing, and folding too quickly could serve to make some of his most hardcore supporters less likely to support Clinton rather than more so.
As far as leverage is concerned, Sanders’ campaign has the potential to have a far more important impact on American politics than a few changes to the largely ignored national platform. Making those changes is important, and Sanders will need to endorse Clinton soon both to secure those changes and to have a speaking role at the Convention. That said, the movement the Sanders campaign built can accomplishment far more than this.
Sanders himself has been hinting as much in his encouragement of his followers to run for lower-level offices. In his recent speech he claimed that over 6,700 of his followers were interested in running for office. If only a small fraction of those were to follow through, the ripple effects would be felt on American politics for a long time to come.
Sanders’ call to local and state-level action is reminiscent of Howard Dean’s encouragement of his own insurgent supporters in 2004 to run for Democratic Party and local offices to reinvigorate what he called “The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.” Modeled after the Movement Conservatives who successfully did likewise beginning in the 1960s, it worked, spawning hundreds if not thousands of liberal activists who made their way into city councils, school boards, statehouses and official positions in local and state Democratic Party infrastructures. Those people have been a big influence in moving the Party, particularly in blue states like California, significantly to the left on both social and economic issues. Dean, of course, was also key in helping to convert “Dean for America” into “Democracy for America“, which remains one of the most effective liberal organizing groups in the country both in terms of training activists in the nuts and bolts of winning elections, and in holding elected officials accountable to progressive ideals.
Also of note: Sanders’s supporter list is one of the most coveted items in politics today, as numerous groups from the Clinton campaign to the DCCC/DSCC to various non-profits salivate over the opportunity to generate new fundraising opportunities. But that list has far more potential than as an extended set of recipients for ridiculous doomsday email asks: it can be a springboard for Sanders and his allies to use as an organizing database to elect a swath of committed democratic socialists all across America.
To accomplish all of that, though, the Sanders campaign needs some time to put away its grievances against Clinton, compromise with her on platform and other institutional changes to the party at the convention, establish some short- and long-term goals with a framework toward achieving them, and set the right tone for building a movement going forward that doesn’t either damage Clinton’s chances in the fall or become wholly subsumed by the DNC and the immediate concerns of the 2016 election.
Realistically, Sanders still has a week or two to sort all of that out before finally endorsing her–and it won’t make much of a difference to his own legacy or to Democratic prospects against Trump.