The Cable

Sanders Won’t Put Out ‘The Bern’ Yet

The Vermont senator signaled he plans to be more of an attack dog against Donald Trump than a surrogate for his party's presumptive nominee.

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Bernie Sanders has achieved more in his nearly 14-month presidential campaign than even he had imagined was possible for a wild-haired septuagenarian, self-described socialist, and fiercely independent Vermonter running for the Democratic nomination against the embodiment of the party’s establishment, Hillary Clinton.

So he has decided he’s not quite ready to leave the stage.

“Nobody thought we were going anywhere,” he said in a web address Thursday night from Burlington, Vermont. Now, he said, the campaign has proven, “our vision for the future of this country is not some kind of fringe idea.”

Sanders’s campaign, an impassioned extension of his decades-long and at times lonely crusade against economic inequality, mobilized thousands of young people to turn out and hear his trademark Brooklyn brogue at campaign stops across the country, a movement that inspired the tagline: “Feel the Bern.” And it proved an unexpected challenge to Clinton, forcing her leftward and until only recently preventing her from turning fully to her inevitable general election opponent, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump.

Sanders earned millions of votes, but his continued refusal to concede risks squandering that leverage if he’s increasingly seen as a 2016 spoiler.  

Approaching the end of the Democratic primary on Tuesday, he earned his fair share of criticism from party leaders who worried his sharp criticisms of the former secretary of state’s “judgement” could hurt her in a matchup with Trump. Sanders sought to undermine her experience by challenging her record on issues ranging from global trade deals to the Iraq War, U.S.-led military intervention in Libya, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But rather than try to put some of those fears of Democratic disunity to rest by throwing his support behind Clinton and seeking to unify his adopted party, Sanders used his video address Thursday night to continue to defy calls to drop out of the race.

He focused on thanking his supporters, touting his campaign’s achievements, and taking the Democratic Party to task for what he described as an exclusive political process that caters to special interests.

He did express support for Clinton, with whom he served in the Senate, and reiterated that he would work with her to defeat Trump — but he continued to withhold his endorsement.

“After centuries of racism, sexism and discrimination of all forms in our country we do not need a major party candidate who makes bigotry the cornerstone of his campaign,” Sanders said of Trump, urging his supporters that their “major political task” over the next five months is making sure the GOP presumptive nominee is “defeated and defeated badly.”

“And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time,” he said.

But Sanders gave no details as for what that role would look like, or whether he plans to actively campaign for Clinton in the months ahead until Election Day in November.

His references to her lacked even a fraction of the warmth and effusiveness that President Barack Obama used when he formally threw his weight behind his former secretary of state last week, though Sanders read much of the web address without apparent emotion.

“It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues,” Sanders said, referring to their meeting Tuesday. “It is also true that our views are quite close on others.”

Instead, Sanders told supporters that he’d continue fighting for raising the federal minimum wage, equal pay, banning assault weapons, defeating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and other issues that had been at the center of his maverick campaign.

Beating Trump is not enough, he said.

“The political revolution means much more than fighting for our ideals at the Democratic National Convention and defeating Donald Trump,” he continued, looking past the party’s convention in Philadelphia in July, where he’s vowed to push for the “most progressive platform ever passed by the Democratic Party.” “It means that, at every level, we continue the fight to make our society a nation of economic, social, racial, and environmental justice.”

“The Bern” lingers on.

Photo credit: Alex Wong / Staff

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