Politics

Bernie Sanders Isn't Hurting His Party's Chances

| by Nik Bonopartis
Sen. Bernie Sanders of VermontSen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont

Bernie Sanders isn't Ralph Nader.

As the Vermont senator presses on and tries to pad his delegate count -- and political clout -- ahead of the Democratic primary, a growing chorus of Democrats is calling on him to suspend his campaign, make peace with rival Hillary Clinton, and tell his supporters to get in line.

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A judge looked this inmate straight in the eyes and said something that left the entire courtroom in tears:

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But Bernie Sanders isn't Julius Caesar either.

He's not a general. He can't "order" his supporters to defect to Clinton any more than he can tell superdelegates to switch allegiances.

Just as the burden of proof is on a person who makes an extraordinary claim, the burden of uniting a political party falls on the nominee. It's Clinton's election to win, Clinton's case to make, and Clinton's responsibility to bring disaffected Democrats and progressives into the fold ahead of the general election.

Whether she wins the White House depends in large part on her ability to do that, and to convince Sanders supporters that she has their best interests at heart.

So far, it isn't looking good.

Sanders supporters are a passionate bunch, and they believe in their candidate because he's the only one on the left who's making a real effort to take money out of politics, to break up big banks, and to deliver on the kind of social promises that used to define the Democratic party.

Clinton's answer is that, while Sanders' goals are laudable, her goals are pragmatic. It's the same argument she used in 2008, when she mocked then-Sen. Barack Obama's optimistic campaign.

"Now, I could stand up here and say, 'Let's just get everybody together. Let's get unified,'" Clinton told a Rhode Island crowd at the time, per CNN. "The skies will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect."

That line backfired, and even Clinton's critics will acknowledge that she's a shrewd enough politician to avoid making the same mistake. To passionate followers, mocking a candidate isn't much different than mocking his supporters.

Still, Clinton's advisors would benefit from a thought exercise in which they put themselves in the shoes of Sanders' most ardent boosters. These are people who are extremely wary of the status quo, who see most politicians as multimillionaires who won't do much beyond providing lip service to ideas like income equality and real social justice. Worse, they see Clinton as fundamentally dishonest, as exit polls have consistently illustrated throughout the primary process.

Clinton is asking them to do a difficult thing, to take a large leap of faith. She claims she's been just as critical of Wall Street as Sanders has, but she still won't release the transcripts of her speeches to firms like Goldman Sachs. She's come out against Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership, but it wasn't so long ago that she called it the "gold standard" of trade deals, a quote that continues to haunt her. She's spent months criticizing Sanders' signature issues as unrealistic pipe dreams, and now she's trying to court the people who strongly believe in those goals.

In Politico, liberal pundit Bill Scher puts the onus on Sanders to keep the Democratic party unified, writing that he "has to strategize very carefully as he prepares to leave his mark at the convention." It's Sanders' responsibility, Scher argues, to muster his supporters and convince them to put their support behind Clinton.

"How might Sanders walk the fine line he needs to—pushing hard for his ideal platform without poisoning the party well?" Scher asks.

The thing is, Sanders is a nominal Democrat. He put the "D" in front of his name for the sake of his presidential run, but he's always been an independent. More importantly, he's a man who cares deeply about his principles.

Sanders is an intelligent man, and he knows a unified Democratic party has a better chance of defeating Republican nominee Donald Trump. But he also knows that he can't ask his supporters to throw their weight behind a candidate who is arguably Wall Street's best friend without getting something significant in return. He's keenly aware of how difficult it will be, after spending so much time lamenting the influence of money in politics, to enthusiastically support a candidate who has raised more money than any other presidential hopeful, who benefits from more Super PAC support than anyone else, and who functioned as a cash vacuum during her brief respite as a civilian, barely batting an eye as dubious donors like the Saudi royals bankrolled the Clinton Initiative.

If anyone doubts that the more liberal elements of the Democratic party are deeply unhappy with the Clinton campaign, they just have to turn on cable news and see what's happening in Nevada for proof -- feeling railroaded and disenfranchised, Sanders supporters have turned to violence and even death threats against party officials. Even the peaceful protesters should worry Democrats, as footage and photos from the demonstrations show young women carrying signs with messages like "I'm NOT With Her," referring to Clinton.

Sanders himself rebuffed party leaders who wanted him to minimize the turn of events, saying that while he condemns violence, he believes "the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place" in Arizona, according to the Associated Press.

Bernie Sanders isn't hurting the Democratic party. The party's own leaders are doing a fine job of that themselves. By now, it's becoming apparent to them that they have a major problem on their hands, a major ideological divide that threatens to rupture the party. If Clinton is the leader they think she is, the leader who can unite a country, then she -- not Sanders -- needs to demonstrate she can unite her own party first.

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Sources: Politico, Talking Points Memo, AP via KVOA, CNN, BBC / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr