Hillary Clinton had a huge night on Tuesday, winning four out of five states and expanding her already substantial delegate lead. From here Bernie Sanders needs to win about 1,000 of 1,200 delegates remaining to clinch the nomination. Not even the most inspired idealist can fail to recognize the rapidly shrinking prospect of Sanders becoming the Democratic nominee. Tradition dictates that a losing candidate’s supporters vote for the party’s eventual nominee in the general election, but this election has been anything but traditional.
Both candidates addressed the issue of Sanders supporters backing Clinton at an MSNBC event Monday. The difference in the candidates’ responses is illuminating. Sanders called on Clinton to court his supporters by offering more progressive policies. Clinton argued that the fact that she’s winning means voters like her the way she is and she doesn’t need to reach out to the progressive base – though presumably she still thinks they should come to her.
For many progressives, supporting Clinton is unsettling. As a senator she voted to authorize President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, a decision which no amount of political squirming can justify. She voted for the PATRIOT Act twice and doesn’t regret it. During her much-vaunted time as Secretary of State she repaid donations to the Clinton Foundation from fossil fuel giants and brutal dictatorships with fracking permits and weapons. Her politically calculated support of marriage equality didn’t come until 2013, when a majority of Americans already supported it.
Because of all this and more, some Sanders supporters have adopted the controversial “Bernie or bust” philosophy. Should Clinton clinch the nomination, these supporters will vote third party, not vote at all, or even vote for Donald Trump. But if support for liberal ideals extends beyond a particular candidate, then a vote for Clinton will likely be a necessary compromise. That doesn’t mean, however, that Sanders supporters should give up.
As long as Sanders has supporters donating to his campaign, doing grassroots political work and filling arenas, he has every right to stay in the race until the convention in July. He has won 1,200 delegates already and overcame a 60-point deficit in national polling against the highest-ranking female in the American oligarchy. By taking the fight all the way to the convention Sanders keeps his crucial part of the conversation alive.
Establishment Democrats hate the idea of ongoing debate within the party. Many think Sanders’s continued presence in the race is harming Clinton’s chances in the general election. They compare him to Ralph Nader, who is commonly blamed for splitting the progressive vote and costing Al Gore the 2000 election. There is a lesson to be learned there, but it isn’t on Sanders to learn it – it’s on Clinton.
Gore lost in 2000 for a variety of reasons, but one of the big reasons is he didn’t do enough to court liberal voters. That failing is not on Nader, it’s on Gore. Now is not the time for Clinton to act smug. Given her enormous systemic advantages, the narrowness of her victory should alarm her. If Clinton expects Sanders supporters to show up for her in November, she should do what Sanders suggested and offer them something in the way of a policy compromise.
Much of what makes Donald Trump and Ted Cruz such grim prospects also applies to Hillary Clinton. She has repeatedly demonstrated her hawkish foreign policy as both a senator and as Secretary of State. She opposes universal health coverage. She is one of the biggest beneficiaries of corporate political financing. She advocates a lower minimum wage than Sanders, who sides with labor activists in their fight for $15 an hour.
But there are still marked differences between her and her Republican adversaries. Trump and Cruz oppose the very concept of the minimum wage. Clinton is a super hawk, but she doesn’t advocate for torture or suggest attacking terrorists’ families. She isn’t planning to throw millions of Americans off Obamacare. And she’s undeniably better on social issues – Trump said women who have abortions should be punished while Cruz described the Supreme Court decision making gay marriage the law of the land as “fundamentally illegitimate, lawless, and unconstitutional.”
Think of where the energy of the left will have to go under President Trump. Liberal activists will have to hold hands around homes so immigrant families aren’t deported. They’ll have to protest as commentators and satirists are sued or jailed. We’ll be in more real danger than ever when Trump delivers ISIS the Muslims vs. The World legitimacy they crave. And our entire political process, dysfunctional and corrupt as it is, could be completely unraveled by violence from Trump goon squads.
As bad as Clinton is, these aren’t concerns with her. If no-showing in November allows a fascist bully to enter the White House, Sanders supporters will have let down vulnerable people they should be most in solidarity with, including immigrants, women, Muslims and the poor. Liberals are better off holding their noses, voting for Clinton and continuing to fight for progressive reforms at the grassroots level. A Clinton Administration will probably be a friendlier atmosphere for this than a Trump tyranny.
The disappointment of Sanders supporters is understandable. In an election that’s been all about insurgents and outsiders, Clinton is the most insider candidate in the race. Meanwhile Sanders showed the way to a nation that addresses the concerns of all its citizens rather than just the wealthiest few. At several points during the primary it seemed he had a real shot at the nomination. Instead the election is likely to end up being between the two people viewed least favorably by the electorate.
Only in swing states will Sanders supporters be truly obligated to vote for Clinton. And they can do some strategizing. For instance, in deep-red states they could vote for the Green Party. If Clinton loses the popular vote but wins the Electoral College, and the Green Party receives five or more percent of the popular vote, left-leaning voters can wield ever-greater influence over the process.
Wonderful as it would be to see Sanders in the White House, he sparked a movement that’s far more important than any one election. There is still time to expand on what’s already been accomplished in enlightening Americans and forming progressive networks. The only way for progressives to truly come out winners in 2016 is to keep that movement alive. Helping America commit suicide in November isn’t the best way to do it.