Dealing With Bernie
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Historically it has been the Democratic Party which has gotten itself all wrapped up in internecine fights even at conventions which have frequently botched up a leading candidate’s campaign because of a political in-fighting. This campaign cycle it was clearly the Republican Party which had gotten itself totally enmeshed into serious political rivalries which appeared to be tearing the party apart and avoiding a united Republican effort in the fall. In fact, it had been Trump, the frontrunner, who was the most divisive force among all the GOP candidates. Now that Trump is the presumptive nominee, he has begun to mend fences; gain support from more and more elements of the GOP establishment; tone down—somewhat—his rhetoric; and start to create a general election profile. At the same time unfortunately for Clinton and the Democratic Party leadership, it appears once again to be within the Democratic Party where the pre-convention hostility persists; perhaps even escalating.
Few analysts believe at this point that Bernie has a chance to be the Democratic nominee to be selected at the Philadelphia convention. Even Sanders understands that. What is unclear is why Sanders, his campaign, and his troops are intensifying their campaign at this juncture knowing that it is only creating more problems for the general Clinton campaign. Now ought to be the moment when Bernie applauds his troops, endorses Hillary, fights for platform concessions, and brings his campaign on board the Hillary train. Sanders knows full well that she will need his endorsement and supporters this fall to bring out the votes in November. The unknown questions are why is Sanders staying the course so aggressively, what exactly is he fighting for, and why?
Sanders historically viewed himself politically as an independent democratic socialist. While he caucused with the Democrats and was treated by them as a Democrat, Sanders consistently tacked more to the left than did the Democrats in Congress. It would appear that while Sanders is seeking the Democratic Party nomination, his views on the campaign trail—especially when juxtaposed to Hillary’s–have demonstrated a clear sense of political independence from the Democratic Party. As a result Sanders has effectively sought to use his run for the nomination to move the overall party more to the left. On some issues he has followed a more socialist agenda than the positions of the Democratic Party. He indeed has moved some Democrats to ally with him on some issues. Now, however, it would seem more politically beneficial to his ultimate goals, for Sanders to accept a more traditional role within American party politics. He should back off now and let his campaign triumphs be apparent as the party convention and subsequent campaign develops; as well as in the next Congress.
So far it appears that Sanders is prepared to fight for his issues through the party platform meetings and on to the convention floor. While here again eventually Clinton’s backers will carry the day on most issues, nothing positive can evolve in a Democratic food fight in Philadelphia. While Trump and Hillary both have very high negatives in all the major polls which have tested this factor, the Democratic Party does not need to give the Republican Party any more live ammunition coming out of its own convention; especially given the fact there is nothing so far that has been conventional about the 2016 presidential campaign.