Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Thursday speech was billed as a “Where Do We Go From Here?”
The answer, according to his schedule, was to another “Where Do We Go From Here” speech on Friday morning where he’ll give a speech with that exact same billing in Albany, New York.
It’s the song that never ends. It just goes on and on, my friends.
Sanders has acknowledged that he won’t be the Democratic nominee for president. Yet despite this fact, he continues to campaign for the presidency—with all the vigor of a candidate who thinks he can still win.
“Do you want to be ambassador to Narnia?” late-night comedian Stephen Colbert reportedly joked to the senator during a pre-tape of his show.
Regardless, Sanders came onto his New York City stage to hard rock music backed by an electric guitar—“this political revolution is not about Bernie Sanders… it’s about you and millions of other people,” Sanders began. “What this campaign has shown, not just in winning 13 million votes, but in taking the establishment all over this country… is that millions of people are willing to stand up.”
Elections come and go, he continued, but what is more important is that “political and social revolutions continue… our goal from day one has been to transform this nation, and that is a fight we are going to continue.”
And then he started sounding crazy.
Sanders—with a completely straight face—compared his campaign to gay rights movement, women’s suffrage, and other various major progressive and labor movements that have been successful over the past century.
He then held forth on what his campaign had accomplished.
“What the system is designed to do, what corporate media is designed to do, is that we cannot achieve real change... what our campaign has been about, and is about, is saying, ‘Sorry, we’re thinking big. We want real change,’” Sanders thundered, pausing for a dramatic swig of his water bottle. “Real change is not easy, and real change never takes place from the top-on-down, always from the bottom-on-up.”
Clinton leads Sanders by nearly 1,000 delegates, according to the Associated Press—a reality that the Vermont senator himself acknowledged this week when he told C-SPAN, “It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee.”
Despite this admission, his campaign churns on—an amped up crowd attended his speech at The Town Hall in Times Square—and he continued to send out email appeals for fundraising as recently as Thursday.
And there was a distinct turn from a presidential campaign to those down ballot.
“We are going to go all over this country,” Sanders insisted Thursday evening, saying that he would be backing candidates at every level: in mayor’s races, in contests for state legislatures, in Congressional bids and Senate campaigns. In fact, on Friday Sanders is scheduled to hold a rally backing a Congressional candidate in Syracuse, New York.
“Never, ever lose your sense of outrage!” the senator shouted, to raucous clapping and chants from his crowd—his biggest applause line of the night, judging by the reaction he received for it.
On Capitol Hill earlier this week, Sanders looked ready to return to his old job and settle back into his previous role. The senator-turned-candidate-turned-maybe-just-senator-again reclined in a seat near the back of the chamber as his colleagues from both parties ambled over to shake hands and share laughs.
Sen. John McCain—another member of the chamber who knows a thing or two about losing a presidential election—draped his arm over the democratic-socialist’s shoulder and whispered into his ear. They both grinned.
Sanders spent his campaign ripping Washington for dysfunction and corruption. But back on the Senate floor, as it geared up to take another vote that would accomplish nothing, he was among peers.
Sanders’s followers are as dogged as ever. Winnie Wong, an organizer with People for Bernie—an outside group not officially affiliated with the campaign put together in part by alums of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Wong included—promised the movement would never die.
She was at the Chicago People’s Summit last weekend, which brought together 3000 Bernie-friendly progressive activists. She says she and her fellow activists plan to follow Bernie to Philly and do whatever he directs. She’s thinking of running for New York state senate in 2018. People for Bernie built an email list with tens of thousands of names.
“For people who are in the movement, there is no such thing as failure,” Wong said, noting that he got about 11 million votes in the primary: “He made possible the ideology of democratic-socialism. He made it mainstream.”
The organizational infrastructure will still get things done after Bernie drops out (because, in theory he will, at some point). In the same way that Occupy laid the groundwork for People for Bernie, People for Bernie may lay the groundwork for something else—though it remains to be seen what that will be.
“The energy is not going to dissipate because it’s not centralized. It’s so much bigger than 2008, and I think most people don’t actually realize that, especially the Democratic party elite. I say this with my tongue half in cheek, but they don’t really, actually understand how the internet works, and I do.”
Others are, well, less impressed. Joe Trippi, who ran Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign—also a bid by a Vermont outsider that looked potentially promising for about five minutes—said he never took Sanders seriously, and nobody else should have.
Trippi argued that Clinton polled at about 58 or 59 percent among Democratic primary voters, as long as 18 months ago. Any progressive challenger to her left—or any combination of progressive challengers—would have scooped up about 42 or 43 percent of the Democratic primary electorate’s vote.
“He never got very close and was never going to,” he argued, saying the media overhyped the race.
“It was totally the press wanting to create a race where there wasn’t one. Just the mechanics of how a primary works—you could have taken a look at the first 3 or 4 states and known that he was never going to get much over 40 to 43 percent of the vote, ever, from South Carolina on,” he said. “The moment you know that, you could have predicted every state from there on in.”
But Bernie was willing to take advantage of that press attention Thursday, teasing a “Where Do We Go From Here” speech before another “Where Do We Go From Here” speech the next day—this was Bernie’s revolution, and while he could still get the spotlight, dammit, this revolution was going to be televised.