Something political has been nagging at the back of my mind for a few days.
Sometime very soon, Barack Obama will endorse Hillary Clinton and throw his full support behind her. He hasn’t yet officially, not while there are still Democratic primaries to be decided, but he has been quietly telling donors and major Democratic operatives that the Democratic race is over for about two months. Once the primaries are over and Clinton has over 50% of the pledged delegates, she becomes the presumptive nominee and there’s no longer any reason for Obama to stay neutral on the sidelines, not when it’s important to turn all guns on Donald Trump.
So, I expect Obama’s full-throated endorsement of Clinton in mid-June.
What’s nagging me is this — How will Bernie Sanders’ most committed supporters take Obama’s inevitable endorsement of Clinton, especially if, as seems likely, Sanders’ inner circle (Jeff Weaver, Jane Sanders) are still insisting that they’ll flip the super-delegates and take the nomination fight to the floor of the convention two months later?
While there will be some who will react with a, “We fought the good fight, we came up short, and there are bigger fish to fry,” I suspect that for a decent sized number, those most committed to the delegitimization narrative that Clinton is corrupt and a sell-out, they will take Obama’s endorsement as yet another sign of a corrupt Democratic establishment out to screw over their candidate and their cause.
The Nevada convention over the weekend is just a microcosm of what could ensue. As Josh Marshall writes, “If you pump people up with bogus arguments that they’re losing because they got cheated and the system was rigged, you get people who are really angry, genuinely angry, even though they’re upset that their efforts to reverse the result of the actual election didn’t work.” These Sanders supporters aren’t going to go quietly. They already feel the system is stacked against them; Obama endorsing Clinton before the convention would be the ultimate confirmation of that belief. I’m not sure that’s a good look for Sanders’ hardest of the hard core and the causes they support. Is it worth it to go down fighting for 100% of the cake if it risks losing the whole cake to Donald Trump when they can settle for 85% of the cake? That’s not my best metaphor, but it makes the point — they can fight for their lost cause at the risk of losing the larger war.
A lot will depend, I think, on how graciously Bernie Sanders concedes after the last primary. If he endorses Clinton in June, I believe his supporters will largely support him. But if he vows to fight on to the convention, where he’ll lose on the first ballot, we could see the chaos on the Democratic side that, only two months ago, we all expected on the Republican side.
Which way will Sanders go? Paul Krugman wrote this: “It has been obvious for quite a while that Sanders — not just his supporters, not even just his surrogates, but the candidate himself — has a problem both in facing reality and in admitting mistakes. The business with claiming that Clinton only won conservative states in the deep South told you that; and even before, there were strong indications that he would not accept defeat gracefully or even rationally.” My guess is that as Sanders’ routes to victory are closed off — the primary loses, the mounting delegate totals, the eventual Obama endorsement — Sanders will become like a caged animal, ready and willing to lash out at anything. As Michael Caine says in The Dark Knight, “Some people just want to watch the world burn,” and Sanders increasingly seems like such a person. Denied the prize of the presidency, he’d rather see his cause burn than compromise for less than everything.