As Bernie Sanders said last night, he’s “pretty good with arithmetic.” While a win in California might, just about, have furnished grounds for an appeal to the superdelegates based on momentum, or on his ability to take more votes away from Donald Trump, that isn’t how it turned out. Those of us who, after New Hampshire and Michigan, allowed ourselves to believe that the political revolution this country so urgently needs might start at the top in November—a group that might well include Sanders himself—will need some time, first of all, to mourn that dream.
So now that even New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, who has been pissing on Sanders and his supporters nonstop for months, has finally understood that Hillary Clinton needs them to win, perhaps it’s time to think about whether and how that might actually come about. Because despite what you may have read in Mother Jones, at Talking Points Memo or in Vanity Fair, Bernie Sanders has never shown the slightest sign of being willing to hand the election—and the country—to Donald Trump. Clinton has always known this, just as she also knows from her own bitter experience that losing—especially in a close race you feel you deserved to win—is excruciating. Which, along with being smart enough all along to recognize that she’ll need Sanders and his supporters in November, is why, unlike so many of her cheerleaders, Clinton herself has never pushed Sanders to drop out.
Calling on Sanders to “fall in line” now may satisfy some idiotic pundit’s need to assert himself, but it is precisely the opposite course from one which might succeed in winning over the voters Clinton will need to defeat Donald Trump. What should Clinton and her supporters do instead? Here are five ways—some easy, some not so easy—to help Sanders supporters over the line:
1) Back off. We know you won—and that you conceded to Obama two days after the last primary. But the last primaries in 2008 were Montana and South Dakota, which weren’t going to change anything. Sanders wants to go to Philadelphia with as many delegates as possible—just like you did in 2008. So stop pushing him to quit before DC votes—and maybe call off your attack dogs for the week too.
2) Try to be genuinely gracious. Yes, it’s been a tough campaign, and some of Sanders’s blows have caused damage (Cough! Those transcripts. Cough!) But you’ve won, and although there are probably attacks coming from directions you can’t yet imagine, Sanders at least has given you some practice in the counterpunching you’ve always been good at—and will desperately need to defeat Trump. He’s also pulled our sense of political possibility to the left in a way that any progressive—even a “progressive who gets things done”—should welcome.
3) Listen to Bernie. Compromise when you can. And explain why when you can’t. On one level, this is simply about giving respect where it’s been earned. But it’s also about the future of the Democratic Party—and the country. Millennials didn’t choose Bernie—in overwhelming numbers—because of his taste in clothes or music. They responded to his vision of the world they want to live in—and raise their own children in. A world where healthcare is a human right, where access to quality higher education isn’t rationed by the ability to pay or the willingness to take on massive debt, and where energy companies don’t murder our future in the pursuit of profit. A world where American workers aren’t trapped in a race to the bottom competing with the 21st-century version of slave labor.
4) Change the rules, even though they helped you win. Symbolism matters. Getting rid of superdelegates would be a big victory for Sanders that would cost you nothing. Likewise reinstating Obama’s ban on lobbyists’ funding the DNC. Making the Democratic Party the populist party it needs to be, not just to beat Donald Trump, but to remain the party of working people, would send the strongest possible signal that, while you may have taken money from the 1 percent, they don’t own you.
5) Take the fight to Trump. No more distractions. This may be hard to accept, but many of us supported Bernie not only because we shared his vision, but because we thought he would be a stronger opponent against Trump. Prove us wrong! Spend the weeks between the DC primary and Democratic convention taking Trump apart. If you can do that, you’ll be surprised at how loud the cheers in Philadelphia will be.