To anyone outside the Bernie bubble it was pretty clear from ‘Super Tuesday’ onwards that Hillary Clinton would win the Democratic nomination for President. Despite a remarkably energetic, optimistic, and well-funded Sanders campaign there were simply more Democratic party voters on the former Secretary of State’s side. Defeat was, understandably, a bitter pill to swallow for Senator Sanders’ enthusiastic supporters and the protests outside this week’s Democratic National Convention demonstrate that some are yet to come to terms with it. Bernie himself has, however, resolved to hold his nose and endorse Clinton, whilst lobbying to have his popular policies included in the Democratic platform for the general election. The ‘Bernie or Bust’ brigade would do well to follow his lead and celebrate the success of their campaign rather than return to shouting from the outside.
Sanders’ impact on Clinton’s policy platform is already evident. From pledges to break up the big banks, raise the Federal minimum wage, and move towards abolishing the death penalty, the Vermont Senator’s finger prints are all over the Democratic pitch for the White House. Seen by many as inextricably intertwined with the Wall Street elite, Hillary Clinton’s platform would never have included such policies without pressure from Sanders in the primaries and beyond. Admittedly, Bernie has failed to convince the former First Lady to support his planned healthcare reforms, introduce a carbon tax, or ban fracking. The predominantly young, well educated ‘Bernie Bros’ must remember however that their candidate did not win the Democratic nomination before they deride the party’s failure to adopt all his policies.
Sanders’ much repeated calls for campaign finance reform have caught the ear of even the most committed Clintonites and look certain to form the basis of meaningful legislation. Moreover, his anti-establishment, unrefined style has also spoken to a nation as disenchanted with the political and economic status quo as any other. That Donald Trump has tapped into this same sentiment might suggest that Bernie has ridden this wave rather than made it. Nonetheless, the political climate suggests a candidate of Bernie’s ilk could succeed in 2020.
The Sanders campaign has undoubtedly changed the 2016 Democratic platform; it is as yet unclear whether it has changed US politics for good. That a self-described socialist, non-Christian, vehemently anti-Wall Street individual could win over twenty primary contests against a woman “more qualified” than any previous presidential candidate would suggest so. Bernie’s ‘political revolution’ may not have won this time but perhaps it has only just begun. It is of course worth noting that the nomination of Clinton, the first woman on a major party ticket, is at least equally momentous.
The strong grassroots movement built by the Sanders campaign can build on previous successes and come back stronger in 2020. Perhaps when the ‘Bernie or Bust’ chanters move on through the stages of grief – from denial to acceptance – this will become their aim. The bizarre circumstances of this elections cycle could of course mean that we can predict little going forward. The prospect of a Trump Presidency has forced Clinton to make concessions to Bernie in return for his endorsements, and indeed forced Bernie to play along. Were the Republican ticket a less apocalyptic prospect, Sanders may not have reneged on his staunch criticisms of Hillary and perhaps even run as an independent. Whatever the fallout from November’s election, Sanders supporters should champion their successes to date and begin building for 2020.
It’s tempting to draw parallels between Bernie and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Both old, white veterans of the left unexpectedly took their respective parties by storm, enthusing and mobilising thousands of supporters along the way. Whereas defeat for Corbyn in Labour’s upcoming leadership election may be the end of the party’s left – the centrist PLP wouldn’t allow a similar candidate onto any future ballot – defeat for Sanders is almost certainly not. Despite the strong influence of ‘superdelegates’ in Democratic primaries, candidates are able to mount a serious campaign without their support. A Sanders-like candidate could feasibly win the Democratic nomination in 2020 without the support of party grandees; a future Corbynite candidate for Labour leader would need the backing of MPs just to run. Defeat for Corbyn in 2016 could be fatal for his movement, Sanders’ loss needn’t be the end of his.
In endorsing Hillary Clinton, Sanders accepted defeat but resolved to make the best of it. Those declaring ‘Bernie or Bust’ might not be “ridiculous”, as they were branded by Comedian Sarah Silverman during the DNC, but would certainly do well to follow his lead.