Bernie Sanders began his political career in 1976 as a member of the anti-capitalist "Liberty Union" party, caucused as an independent for three decades in Congress, and only registered as a Democrat to run for president in 2016.
"I am not now, nor have I ever been, a liberal Democrat," Sanders said in 1985, later calling the two parties "tweedle-dee" and "tweedle-dum."
The question of whether Sanders was "really" a Democrat would dog him throughout the primary, as Hillary Clinton allies accused him of being an outsider opportunistically using the party for his own ends.
On Tuesday, however, Sanders finally put to rest the debate over his true party identity. While endorsing Clinton at a rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sanders made clear that he now sees his movement and his beliefs as tied up with that of the Democratic Party.
Sanders praised the records of President Barack Obama and Joe Biden extensively. He gave his unequivocal support to the party’s nominee. And he touted "the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party," as a clear sign that his vision and the party’s were closer aligned than ever before.
"Our job now is to see that platform implemented by a Democratic Senate, a Democratic House, and a Hillary Clinton presidency," Sanders said, Clinton by his side. "And I intend to be in every corner of this country to make certain that happens."
Bernie Sanders: Hillary Clinton "believes" in my priorities
Earlier this week, House Speaker Paul Ryan said that the Democratic Party has been captured by politicians on its left flank, including its presidential nominee.
"I think [Clinton] is actually a liberal progressive — I don’t think she’s faking it," Ryan said. "I think she is a liberal progressive. And I think she’s sitting atop a party that’s now run by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren."
This is an interpretation many on the left would not support. As Sanders endorsed Clinton on Tuesday, for instance, Green Party candidate Jill Stein took to Twitter to highlight the points of conflict between some Democrats and Sanders’s plank:
Sanders’s endorsement today, however, was about demonstrating that he disagrees with Stein and agrees with Ryan. In his speech, Sanders talked extensively about all the ways in which Clinton believes in the policies and goals that match his own.
To back that up, Sanders cited Clinton’s positions on:
- Significantly raising the minimum wage. "She believes that we should raise the minimum wage to a living wage," Sanders said.
- Expanding health care to all Americans. (Sanders cited Clinton’s recent move to embrace the Medicare buy-in proposal, a step to the left of her initial plank.)
- The need to fight the increase in economic inequality. "Hillary Clinton knows that something is very wrong when the very rich become richer while many others are working longer hours for lower wages," Sanders said.
- Combating climate change. "Clinton is listening to the scientists who tell us that if we do not act boldly in the very near future there will be more drought, more floods, more acidification of the oceans, more rising sea levels," he said.
- Reducing the college tuition burden. Sanders cited Clinton’s announcement last week that she’ll push to eliminate college tuition at public universities for families making under $125,000, and said Clinton "believes that we must substantially lower student debt."
- The importance of overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that repealed restrictions on campaign contributions.
Now, none of this should be too shocking. Throughout the primary, Sanders stressed the broad ideological overlap between his positions and Clinton’s.
Still, there was a lot of hand-wringing over whether Sanders would throw his full weight behind the Democratic ticket — or if he’d use the speech to continue to criticize it from within. Today’s endorsement puts that question to rest.
"This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face," Sanders said. "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."