Now that the Democratic presidential race is finally over, the Hillary Clinton camp is hoping for an orderly surrender by Bernie Sanders and his followers. But after a year of being cheered by big crowds and gaining the loyalty of much of the party base and youth, Sanders is probably not that eager to slink back into dignified obscurity without some sort of reward from the establishment he’s spent so much time abusing.
By choosing to withhold an immediate endorsement even after going through the motions of meetings with Obama and Clinton, the Vermont socialist is obviously hoping to use his remaining leverage over the presumptive nominee to gain concessions on the party platform and future policy before he starts cheerleading for his primary opponent. His opening gambit came yesterday with a set of proposals about reforming the party’s presidential selection process that was accompanied by a more explicit demand: the head of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
A month ago, Sanders was racking up primary victories and Clinton’s campaign seemed to be floundering. But a couple of weeks is a lifetime in politics, and her rout of Sanders in California made it clear that for all of the talk about feeling the Bern, the Democrats belong to the Clintons again.
The correlation of forces has been altered. It’s likely that the atmosphere in Philadelphia will be a lot more celebratory than combative. The clarity that comes with a decisive outcome will also have an impact on both Sanders and his backers. For all of her stumbling and bumbling, Clinton still won a clear majority of pledged delegates and votes. With the presidential choices narrowed down to Hillary and the Donald, there aren’t going to be many voices on the left raised to try and tear her down at her moment of triumph.
That doesn’t mean that some bones won’t be thrown in Sanders’ direction. Some sort of agreement about changing the primary process to de-emphasize the role of unelected superdelegates might happen. More substantively, it’s also probable that Clinton will make a lot of promises about spending programs that will appeal to the left. But Clinton would be a fool to do more than that, and particularly when it comes to Wasserman Schultz.
The Florida congresswoman has a been a useful ally for Clinton, and rewarding that loyalty with betrayal will send a bad signal for those thinking about joining her administration. More to the point, it’s not too soon for the Clintons to send the left a message that they are not in charge.
Among other things, that ought to mean no concessions in the platform on foreign policy issues like support for Israel—one of the few points of substantive disagreement she aired out with Sanders during the campaign. Doing that would provide valuable talking points for Donald Trump. Nor would it be wise to saddle herself with a left-winger in the vice presidential slot, which would prove to be more of a burden in the campaign and in the White House than a help along the campaign trail.
Despite the worries about Sanders supporters staying home or defecting, she can probably be confident that his predominantly white and youthful voters will still come out for her in the fall in order to stop Trump. The latest polls show Clinton back in control of the race with Trump, and given his unforced errors, it’s likely to stay that way. The last thing she needs now is to send a signal to independents that she is hostage to Bernie Sanders. His moment is over. If the Clintons are smart, they’ll make sure he walks away from Philadelphia knowing it.