While his colleagues in the Senate were dominating the news cycle with a poignant and powerful filibuster in support of strong gun control measures, Bernie Sanders was holed up in Vermont, polishing remarks he delivered to supporters on Thursday night. The speech itself was familiar. A greatest hits of Bernie’s preferred policy positions and a call to arms for his people to get involved in the political process at every level of government. But for a guy who boasted of his online fundraising prowess and unexpected success during the primaries, his 23-minute speech landed with a thud. Although more than one million people registered for the online stream, at its peak, a mere 218,000 people viewed it and cable news quickly cut away as it became clear he was giving a glorified stump speech lacking a concession to Hillary Clinton.
The past few weeks have been unkind to the 74-year old democratic socialist. After camping out in California for weeks on end in the hope of winning that state’s primary, he got stomped, book ending a day that began with a 30-point blowout in New Jersey and the media’s designation of Clinton as the party’s presumptive nominee. Since then, Sanders has been further marginalized. A meeting with President Obama was quickly overshadowed by the President, Vice President, and Senator Warren’s endorsement of Clinton. As the nation reeled over the mass murder in Orlando, Sanders chose that time to issue his set of demands to the Democrats, including the removal of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Instead of supporting his “fellow” Democrats during the aforementioned filibuster, Sanders skipped it. And through it all, he has refused to concede even as the few supporters he had in Congress abandoned ship.
All of these events would have been enough to shrink whatever leverage Sanders had before his crushing loss in California, but Donald Trump’s implosion has worsened his situation. As Trump has become unmoored – lashing out at a federal judge, claiming the President was somehow complicit in the Orlando attack, accusing soldiers of theft in Iraq – and polling shows a consolidation of Democratic support for Clinton and a steady erosion of Republican support for Trump, it is becoming clear that Sanders’s blessing is not nearly as important as it looked to be just a few weeks ago. Clinton now has a posse that includes a fired up (and very popular) Barack Obama, working class hero Joe Biden, progressive champion Elizabeth Warren, her husband (and still-popular ex-President) Bill Clinton, and whoever she selects as her running mate to eviscerate Trump and rally Democrats, Independents and sane Republicans. Bernie’s support would be helpful, but no longer appears necessary.
Sanders played a weak hand hoping to maximize his return, but he pushed too hard. Instead of quitting while he was ahead, he went all in and lost. Voting ended in California 10 days ago (no mention of Bernie’s 60 point loss in Washington, D.C. earlier this week is needed) and Sanders has shown no sign of getting with the program. He could have giving a gracious concession speech, pledged his full support to Clinton and called on his voters to do the same, all of which would have enhanced his standing in the party. But he did nothing of the sort.
This is telling. For whatever lip service Sanders pays to being a Democrat, his actions tell a much different story. He has now spoken publicly, and with meaningful media attention, three times without so much as gracious and heartfelt congratulations to Clinton or an acknowledgment that the campaign is over. On the most important topic of the day, when his voice could have added weight to Senator Chris Murphy’s filibuster, Sanders was AWOL. What we have seen instead is a refusal to admit defeat, a self-righteousness bordering on narcissism, and a delusional belief that a guy who registered as a Democrat for political expediency now thinks he can tell his newfound party what to do.
When Sanders does not get all he wants, or is denied things he thinks he is owed, do not be surprised when he takes his toys and goes home, which is fine by me. His allegiance to the party was only as strong as his potential to win the nomination. With that gone, and with his endorsers abandoning him, I fully expect Sanders to revert back to being an independent – which is what he has been in his heart the whole time.
Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy