The primaries are over and Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic nominee, but Bernie Sanders isn’t ending his presidential campaign just yet.
In an online address to his supporters Thursday night, the Vermont senator argued that the "political revolution" he tried to mobilize during the primaries has to remain engaged and active. (You can read the transcript here or watch the full address below.)
The tone of Sanders’s speech made clear that his bid to actually win the nomination is effectively over — for instance, he never mentioned any hopes of becoming the nominee, and made zero mention of the superdelegates he’d now need to win huge numbers of to wrest the nomination away from Clinton. (And earlier on Tuesday, his campaign manager said Sanders wasn’t lobbying those superdelegates and had no plans to start anytime soon.)
Furthermore, Sanders’s speech also emphasized how important he felt it is that "Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly," and said he intends "to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time." And he didn’t attack Clinton in any way.
Still, Sanders never said any of those magic phrases like "suspending my campaign" or "endorsing Secretary Clinton." Instead, he said he looked forward "to continued discussions between the two campaigns" that could help make sure "the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history."
Furthermore, Sanders said he plans to take his supporters’ "energy into the Democratic National Convention on July 25 in Philadelphia where we will have more than 1,900 delegates."
Sanders doesn’t want to give up whatever leverage he still has just yet
What’s going on here is that, as of now, there are still two big things Clinton wants from Sanders.
First, Clinton wants him to end his campaign before the convention so the party will be unified going into it. And second, she wants his enthusiastic endorsement, to help mobilize those supporters of his who have so far been reluctant to back her.
But Sanders appears to think that as soon as he gives up either of those things, he’ll lose whatever leverage he still has to push the party in a more progressive direction.
So here’s his strategy: be conciliatory toward Clinton, stop his attacks on her, and make clear they’re on the same team — while also trying to win whatever commitments from her on the platform and her own policies that he can manage. Here’s what he said about Clinton in his speech:
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Clinton and discuss some of the very important issues facing our country and the Democratic Party. It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues. It is also true that our views are quite close on others.
I look forward, in the coming weeks, to continued discussions between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.
I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors: a party that has the courage to take on Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry, the fossil fuel industry and the other powerful special interests that dominate our political and economic life.
There is a bit of risk in this strategy. Clinton does have enough delegates to win the nomination without Sanders’s help, after all, so she could well just tell him to go pound sand rather than give in to anything he’s asking for.
But Sanders apparently is more afraid that once he does drop out and endorse Clinton, she’ll pivot to the general election so quickly that she’ll never have even the slightest reason to care what he thinks about anything for the rest of the campaign. (And, let’s be honest, he’s probably right to be afraid of this.)
So as we enter the month or so before the Democratic convention, that’s the state of affairs: a conciliatory Sanders campaign not actively trying to win anymore, but still withholding that big endorsement to try to win whatever concessions he can from Clinton. We’ll see how well it works.