Why San­ders will ul­ti­mately back Clin­ton

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— Eight years ago, I spent an elec­tion night in a base­ment gym­na­sium in Manhattan, watch­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton and her cam­paign ad­vis­ers take up res­i­dence in a par­al­lel uni­verse.

It was June 3, 2008, and Barack Obama had just clinched the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, mak­ing of­fi­cial a vic­tory that had seemed in­evitable for months. But Terry McAuliffe, then the cam­paign chair­man and em­cee of this Clin­ton “vic­tory” party, re­cited a list of Clin­ton’s pri­mary wins and in­tro­duced her as “the next pres­i­dent of the United States.”

Clin­ton that night made no men­tion of her de­feat, boast­ing that she won “more votes than any pri­mary can­di­date in his­tory.”

Yet four days later, Clin­ton gra­ciously bowed out of the race. In a con­ces­sion speech at the Na­tional Building Mu­seum in Washington, she said she and her sup­port­ers would “do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next pres­i­dent of the United States.” Some in the hall booed — but Clin­ton de­liv­ered her sup­port­ers to Obama in Novem­ber.

Re­call­ing this serene end to the bit­ter and ex­tended 2008 Demo­cratic pri­mary bat­tle, I’m not in­clined to join in all the hand-wring­ing about the dam­age Bernie San­ders is do­ing to Clin­ton’s chances in Novem­ber by re­main­ing in the race.

Tem­pers flared this week af­ter a San­ders sup­porter, ac­tress Rosario Daw­son, men­tioned Mon­ica Lewin­sky at a cam­paign rally. Rep. Ha­keem Jef­fries, D-N.Y., a Clin­ton sup­porter, de­manded San­ders tell his sup­port­ers “to stop pro­vid­ing aid and com­fort to Don­ald Trump and the Repub­li­can Party.”

This, in turn, caused San­ders cam­paign man­ager Jeff Weaver to ac­cuse the Clin­ton cam­paign and her sup­port­ers of us­ing “lan­guage re­served for traitors to our coun­try.”

Why the hys­te­ria? It doesn’t mat­ter if San­ders con­tin­ues his can­di­dacy un­til the last votes are cast in June. What mat­ters is that he quits grace­fully, and there should be ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion that he will, for a sim­ple rea­son: San­ders is not a fool.

San­ders showed no sign of re­treat Tues­day night, even as Clin­ton ex­tended her lead by win­ning the night’s big­gest prize, Penn­syl­va­nia, as well as Mary­land, Delaware and Con­necti­cut; San­ders won only Rhode Is­land. He gave a de­fi­ant, hour-long speech in which he said he was “tak­ing on the most pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion in Amer­ica.” The ref­er­ence to Clin­ton drew



San­ders sounded like an ex­tor­tion­ist Mon­day night when he said Clin­ton, if she won the nom­i­na­tion, would have to earn his sup­port­ers’ votes by em­brac­ing sin­gle-payer health care, free col­lege tu­ition and a car­bon tax — all things Clin­ton re­jected in her (suc­cess­ful) cam­paign against San­ders. But sec­onds later, San­ders, prod­ded by the moder­a­tor, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, added a qual­i­fier: “I will do ev­ery­thing in my power to make sure that no Repub­li­can gets into the White House in this elec­tion cy­cle.”

That’s the cru­cial part. San­ders wants to ex­ert max­i­mum lever­age to move Clin­ton to­ward his pop­ulist poli­cies. But he is a prac­ti­cal man, and he cer­tainly doesn’t wish to see a Pres­i­dent Trump or Pres­i­dent Cruz. This is why there’s no cause for all the fuss over him re­main­ing in the race un­til he is math­e­mat­i­cally elim­i­nated.

Elim­i­na­tion is com­ing. Even be­fore Clin­ton padded her lead with Tues­day night’s wins, San­ders needed to win 59 per­cent of re­main­ing del­e­gates, or 71 per­cent if you in­clude su­perdel­e­gates. That isn’t go­ing to hap­pen.

Clin­ton loy­al­ists worry that Clin­ton will suf­fer gen­eral-elec­tion con­se­quences from San­ders’ sug­ges­tions that she is un­qual­i­fied and in Wall Street’s pocket. And Trump has echoed these at­tacks and said he’d like San­ders “to keep go­ing.”

Still, this doesn’t qual­ify as ugly cam­paign­ing — par­tic­u­larly com­pared with a Repub­li­can race in which can­di­dates have called each other liars and ar­gued about gen­i­tal size. Or com­pare it with the Oba­maClin­ton stand­off of 2008 — a much closer con­test. At a May 31, 2008, meet­ing of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, the two cam­paigns clashed with ac­cu­sa­tions of cheat­ing. There were heck­lers, howls and foul lan­guage, and ex­tra se­cu­rity had to be called in to keep or­der. At the time, Clin­ton aides, sound­ing much like this year’s San­ders aides, were threat­en­ing that Obama “has work to do” to con­vince Clin­ton back­ers to go his way.

But a week later, Clin­ton was out, and the party was on a path to unity.

And so it will hap­pen this time. San­ders, when he quits the race, can jus­ti­fi­ably de­clare vic­tory in mov­ing the de­bate — and Clin­ton — in his di­rec­tion on his key is­sues. His cam­paign has ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions, and he isn’t about to jeop­ar­dize his move­ment by hand­ing the pres­i­dency to Trump.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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