This was the week Bernie Sanders finally seemed to admit defeat in the Democratic presidential primary. “It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee,” a downtrodden Sanders conceded in a little-watched C-SPAN interview on Wednesday. So when he booked a last-minute appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Thursday night, it seemed as though this might be the moment that he officially endorsed rival Hillary Clinton.
But alas, to his supporters’ delight and the Democratic Party’s displeasure, Sanders told Stephen Colbert on Thursday that his campaign is “absolutely” continuing on after tonight.
Sanders received a huge ovation and chants of “Bernie! Bernie!” when Colbert introduced him during the afternoon taping by saying that "as of 4:01 Eastern Time” he was “still a Democratic candidate for president of the United States." Following the interview, but before the episode aired, Sanders was set to deliver a speech at New York City’s Town Hall titled “Where We Go From Here.”
“Have you finished writing the speech?” Colbert asked, offering his services if needed. "Is there anything you're going to announce in the speech that you may want to have some help phrasing?" When the candidate declined to list any big personal announcements that he would be making, Colbert tried a more direct question: “Are you continuing your campaign after tonight?”
“Absolutely,” Sanders replied.
“Are you still a candidate?”
“Are you going to drop out of the race?”
Then, the host asked, “Are you going to endorse Hillary Clinton this evening?”
“No,” Sanders said with a laugh.
Finally, Colbert changed tacks, posing this question to Sanders: “What is it you want?”
Sanders dismissed the suggestion that his decision to stay in the race is a “negotiating tool” to help make his agenda central to the Democratic Party’s platform, instead saying, “We want our 12 million supporters to be heard.”
For what it’s worth, during his speech to supporters Thursday evening, Sanders said his revolution is “just getting started,” adding, "Our goal from day one has been to transform this nation and that is the fight we are going to continue.”
One topic about which Sanders was unequivocal was the outreach that Donald Trump has been making to those who #FeelTheBern but aren’t yet ready to say #ImWithHer. "My supporters are smart enough to know that we don't want a bigot to become president,” Sanders said, a statement that contradicts a recent poll claiming nearly a quarter of his supporters will vote for Trump in the fall.
Sanders also admitted that his campaign “went further and faster” than he ever could have predicted, but he rejected Colbert’s suggestion that his campaign represented some unrealistic “idealism.” Twice he said, “These are not radical ideas,” adding to Colbert, “they are not seen on the TV very often, for a variety of reasons, including some of your sponsors.”
Towards the end of their interview, Colbert did coax Sanders into reminiscing about some his favorite moments from the past year, asking him to envision a “world where you’re going to end your campaign at some point.” The Vermont senator listed memories as diverse as speaking in front of huge and enthusiastic crowds and meeting people afflicted by Flint’s water crisis as highlights.
“I almost wish I had a camera with me all the time,” Sanders said, momentarily forgetting that nearly every moment of his past year was documented by professional photographers. “There are beautiful, beautiful people out there who really love this country and want to transform this country,” Sanders concluded, “and that was the most gratifying aspect of this whole thing.”