Even before Tuesday’s primaries, the Associated Press had counted enough solid delegates, committed and “super,” to declare Hillary Clinton the putative nominee. And after her more-than-convincing primary victories in New Jersey and California last night (63 percent and 56 percent), she decided it was time for a victory lap. From above the old glass ceiling, she reached down to Bernie Sanders, congratulating him on his campaign and, looking back at her own emotions in 2008, saying she knew well how hard it is to concede.
So much for noblesse oblige. Clinton’s schedule in the coming days, with stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, is focused on the general election and the looming menace of Donald Trump. The real message to Bernie: Bye, Felicia.
Yet Sanders, rather infelicitously, is still campaigning.
In California, as results came in with tantalizing slowness and pollsters hesitated to make a call despite what ultimately became a decisive victory for Clinton, Sanders appeared before supporters in Santa Monica late Tuesday night to declare “the struggle continues.”
Fresh off the phone with President Barack Obama, who’d called both candidates to congratulate them on “inspiring campaigns that have energized Democrats,” Sanders sought to reassure his folks and the rest of the country that, “We will not allow right-wing Republicans to control our government and that is especially true with Donald Trump as a candidate.” And in case anyone missed the point: “We will not allow Donald Trump to become president of the United States.”
But Sanders, as ever, presented himself as a man with a mission, a man leading a movement: “We understand that our mission is not just beating Trump, it is transforming our country.” Which led him to his boilerplate attack on billionaires and inequality, and, well, nary a kind word for his rival. When he allowed that he’d received a “gracious” call from Clinton, her name triggered nasty boos.
“Next Tuesday we continue the fight, in the last primary, in Washington, D.C.,” Sanders concluded to hearty applause from the enraptured young supporters holding up signs reading, “A Future to Believe In.”
For almost anyone not part of the rapture, Sanders still risks looking like one of those holdout Japanese soldiers on some godforsaken island, unaware that their war ended ages ago. But he did run an amazing race.
Way back when, in the early days of the campaign, the Clinton team and their supporters—somewhat condescendingly—said that, really, she should have a Democratic challenger. But no one really meant it.
And while there was a concession call or two in the early contests, soon both campaigns dispensed with the pleasantries as they slogged through successive debates and primaries.
On the day that he launched his campaign in April 2015, Sanders, in a rumpled suit, hurried through a cluster of reporters who gathered in front of the Capitol on a sunny, slow news day to watch the senator announce his long-shot bid.
“We don’t have an endless amount of time, I’ve got to get back,” he cautioned the reporters assembled in a small arc around him.
There he recited what would eventually become his rallying cry against “billionaires” and income inequality. He vowed to keep the race about the issues and not about political rivalries.
It was a different time.
Asked then about whether the Clinton Foundation was “fair game”—an issue Sanders brought up in an interview Sunday—Sanders waved the question aside.
“I think what is more fair game for my campaign is the role of money in politics, all right?” he said. “Where are the conflicts of interest when the Koch brothers are going to be spending $900 million on this campaign, making a lot of their money from fossil fuels… The issue here is not the Clinton Foundation. That’s a fair issue. The issue is the huge amount of money that it takes to run a campaign today.”
He then said, for the first time of many, how he would raise money through small donations.
“I wonder now in this day and age whether it’s possible for any candidate, who is not a billionaire or who is not beholden to the billionaire class, to be able to run successful campaigns,” he said. “If that is the case I want you all to recognize what a sad state of affairs that is for American democracy.”
“We’re in this race to win,” he declared, before turning and quickly marching away—as if the whole affair had been a necessary but irritating exercise.
The event was barely 10 minutes long.
Now more than a year later, the massive donor list and movement Sanders has accrued is plotting its pathway forward.
When the AP suddenly called the contest for Hillary Clinton—essentially putting a period on a sentence that had already been written—Sanders supporters had to wrestle with their options.
The Daily Beast spoke to nearly a dozen Sanders supporters and staffers on Tuesday afternoon, and found the camp divided between continuing to pursue an exceedingly unlikely scenario in which Sanders convinced superdelegates to switch their allegiances, and voting for Clinton so as to avoid the looming specter of a Trump presidency.
“I am planning to vote for Clinton in the general election,” former Sanders data director Josh Uretsky told The Daily Beast. “She is by far a stronger, more progressive candidate than she was last summer and clearly a better choice than Trump to lead our country. Sanders’s campaign always faced a difficult path; that he was able to do as well as he did speaks to the urgency of his message and the mood of the American people.”
Uretsky was fired from the Sanders campaign in December after being implicated in a data breach that involved voter files from the Democratic National Committee.
While he was surprised at the decision by the AP to announce Clinton’s presumptive win prior to Tuesday’s contests, Uretsky doesn’t see much point in trying to cajole superdelegates to Sanders’s side.
“I can’t imagine what it would take to win over a majority of the superdelegates, much less enough to overcome losing the pledged delegate race,” he said. “The Sanders campaign has accomplished several incredibly difficult things this last past year. Even so, it would be difficult to unify the party after the convention if the superdelegates were to overturn the results of the primaries and caucuses.”
Others weren’t so immediately moved by the reality of Sanders’s defeat.
“I will vote with my conscience and for the best candidate,” former Sanders national organizer Corbin Trent told The Daily Beast. “I’ll have to wait and see what those options are in November.” Yet he said he would not vote for Trump when asked.
Trent is one of the founders of Brand New Congress, an initiative that was created in order to promote future leaders who bear the same agendas as Sanders.
He wasn’t willing to call the race quits just yet.
“There will be time until they vote,” Trent said of the superdelegates who formally vote at the Democratic National Convention in July. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Eric Varney, who runs a popular Facebook page for supporters called “By Sanders Supporters, For Sanders Supporters,” said that he does not plan to vote for either Trump or Clinton.
“I’m keeping this page alive and we’re going to try to convince as many Sanders supporters not to vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but instead either writing in Bernie Sanders or voting green. We must simply not be afraid of either side.”
So, Sanders moves on to Washington to campaign and for a just-announced meeting Thursday with President Obama, who may try to employ his old community-organizing skills to bring together, at long last, the Party and the Movement.