In 2016, when it was clear Hillary Clinton had the required number of delegates to win the nomination and Sen. Bernie Sanders had lost he refused to accept the result and pushed on to the convention continuing to incite his supporters against Clinton. Let’s hope he will not do the same in 2020 to Joe Biden.
There were times before when a losing candidate’s supporters threatened not to work for the nominee but in 2016 it was the candidate himself who made things worse. In 2020, let’s hope Sanders will talk to his supporters and convince them how important it will be to unite behind the nominee of the party in the general election.
In 2008, I was an ardent supporter of Hillary Clinton and was an elected delegate for her to the convention in Denver. It had been a hard fought campaign and contrary to the 2016 primary campaign, which Hillary won by four million votes, the vote count was about equal between she and Barack Obama. Nevertheless he won the delegates needed for the nomination. Hillary called a meeting of her delegates at the convention and told us what she would do and asked that we enthusiastically support her when she stood on the floor to ask the convention to make the Obama nomination unanimous.
Just prior to the convention when it was clear Obama would have the needed delegates for the nomination I wrote a column for the Washington Blade pledging my support for him and urged everyone to do the same. I was pilloried by a large group of Hillary supporters who called themselves PUMAs, which stood for ‘Party Unity my Ass.’ The difference between 2008 and 2016 was Hillary not only spoke to unity, she and Bill campaigned enthusiastically with and for Obama across the nation. In 2016, Sanders did the opposite. He kept Hillary waiting for 30 days leading into the convention refusing to endorse her and actually kept inciting his supporters against her. Then after the convention, when Sanders did travel the country to ostensibly support Hillary, you only had to listen to realize all his speeches were about him. We later learned he was already taking notes for his book, which would make him one of the millionaires he had spent his campaign railing against.
Now with the Democratic primary in 2020 all but over, Sanders has a chance to make up for that. As I write this column, it is already clear Biden will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. If the results of the Tuesday primaries match the polling in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona (Ohio postponed due to coronavirus) and prove anywhere near to being correct they will have been the nail in the coffin of Sanders’s campaign. So Sanders will have the opportunity to make a quick endorsement and pledge to truly campaign for the nominee and move to unify the party.
His role must focus on urging his supporters, particularly those who stayed home or voted for a third party in 2016 in a protest against Clinton to understand if they do that again they are helping to reelect Trump. After four years of Trump they now know how dangerous that will be to any of their dreams and aspirations and to democracy as we know it.
Sanders can remind them if Democrats don’t take back the presidency and the Senate, Trump will continue to nominate, and the Senate will confirm, lifetime ultra-conservative judges who will rule against all they believe in for generations. In 2020, Sanders has to control his ego and accept he will never be president of the United States. If he is able to do that he will have that major role in electing a Democratic president and defeating Trump. While he and Biden may differ on many things I do believe Sanders will fight for our country and fight to protect the Constitution. Defeating Trump may just depend on his doing that.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.