Sanders is one of the last to climb on board a Democratic unity train brought together as much by fear of a Donald Trump presidency as by ardor for Clinton.
July 12, 2016 — 2:00 AM PDT Updated on July 12, 2016 — 9:30 AM
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Bernie Sanders joined most of the rest of the Democratic Party on Tuesday by formally endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, a step toward unity motivated as much by fear of a Donald Trump presidency as enthusiasm for the presumptive nominee.
Four weeks after the last votes were cast in the nomination contest, and after multiple rounds of negotiations between their campaigns, Sanders and Clinton took the stage together Tuesday at a high school gym in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to end their primary battle.
Sanders said he was backing Clinton but not giving up on the ideals for which he campaigned. Clinton, in turn, voiced support for the economic priorities that animated the Vermont Senator's campaign.
“I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president,” Sanders said at the Portsmouth High School gym, drawing chants of "Bernie" from a crowd of 2,000, plus 1,000 more in the school auditorium. “This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face. And there is no doubt in my mind that, as we head into November, Hillary Clinton is far and away the best candidate to do that.”
In an attempt to soothe those of his supporters upset by the endorsement, Sanders acknowledged that "it is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about." From the bleachers, there were a few shouts of "never Hillary!"
Sanders' long reluctance to endorse Clinton diminished his political leverage as the campaign drew to a close, especially as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a star of the Democratic progressive wing that was a core constituency for Sanders, delivered a full-throated endorsement of Clinton last month, following President Barack Obama, who remains broadly popular among Democrats.
A handful of groups aligned with Sanders already have moved behind Clinton. The Communications Workers of America and Democracy for America shifted their support to Clinton on Monday, as did the Progressive Action Political Action Committee, the political wing of the Sanders-founded Congressional Progressive Caucus. The activist group MoveOn backed Clinton after Tuesday's rally ended.
Sanders’ ImpactStill, Sanders' impact on the party has been undeniable, something Clinton acknowledged Tuesday. "Let’s open the doors to everyone who shares our progressive values," she said. "You will always have a seat at the table when I am in the White House."
Clinton last week proposed tuition-free public college for families making under $125,000, a major leap toward Sanders' college-affordability plan, and she's endorsed a single-payer health insurance option for people over the age of 55. The Democratic Party platform, finalized over the weekend in Orlando, Florida, also includes language in support of a financial transaction tax that reflect ideas for which Sanders fought.
Although the platform committee rejected amendments that would have called for the removal of the cap on taxable income to fund Social Security, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and condemned Israel's “occupation and illegal settlements” of Palestine, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver called the final platform a success, and predicted Sanders supporters would reach a similar conclusion.
“He has energized and inspired a generation of young people," Clinton said Tuesday. "So thank you, thank you Bernie for your endorsement but more than that thank you for your lifetime of fighting injustice.”
The show of unity is a marked contrast to the rancor still consuming Republicans. Scores of prominent Republicans have declined or refused to endorse Trump. Fully 85 percent of Democrats who backed Sanders during the primary say they'll vote for Clinton in the general election and 72 percent of Democratic voters say the party will unite solidly behind their nominee, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
By comparison, among Republicans who back someone other than Trump in the nomination race, 77 percent say they'll vote for him in November. Just 38 percent of Republicans say the party will be united behind him, according the the Pew survey, conducted June 15-26.
But pockets of resistance to Clinton remain. On Twitter and Reddit, dyed-in-the-wool Sanders supporters were calling him a “traitor” and voicing a determination never to vote for Clinton and, perhaps, to back Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who's offered to step aside if Sanders wanted to be the party's standard-bearer.
Even at Tuesday's rally there were scattered boos and other expressions of disapproval at the mention of Clinton's name.
Trump has sought to stoke such dissent. He's picked up Sanders's campaign complaints about a “rigged” political and economic system that benefits the elites at the expense of working-class Americans. On Tuesday, Trump echoed the language of disgruntled Sanders supporters on Twitter, saying he “has totally sold out to Crooked Hillary Clinton.”
The Sanders endorsement also may give Clinton a brief respite from the Republican drumbeat on her use of a private e-mail server while she served as secretary of state. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, both Republicans, have asked the Justice Department of investigate whether Clinton committed perjury when she made statements about her e-mail practices when testifying to lawmakers.
Trump was much on the minds of those gathered in Portsmouth. Sanders said Trump's "reckless economic policies" would increase the national debt by trillions of dollars and exacerbate income inequality. He suggested any Trump nominees to the Supreme Court would not curb big money in politics, or protect the environment, women's reproductive rights, gays, minorities and immigrants.
“If you don’t believe this election is important, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump will nominate, and what that means to civil liberties, equal rights, and the future of our country,” Sanders said.
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Sanders still is a key player for parts of the party, said Bob Master, the legislative and political director for CWA’s District One office, which covers eight northeastern states. “There’s a lot of lingering mistrust, if not anger, towards Secretary Clinton and I think Senator Sanders has a unique role to play in address those feelings,” he said. The union’s endorsement was driven by a need to defeat Trump, and he believes Sanders can help lead his supporters to a similar conclusion.
But for everyone else on the left, Sanders' belated move isn't a big deal.
“Ultimately, his endorsement now probably doesn’t make that much of a difference,” said Lis Smith, a top aide on former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's campaign. “But it’s a nice show of unity—and a good contrast with the pandemonium on the Republican side—heading into the convention.”