‘Bernie or bust’ army out of Sanders’ control

David Lightman
McClatchy Washington Bureau

Philadelphia — Bernie Sanders’ plea to his passionate army of supporters Monday that they back Hillary Clinton fell largely on angry, nothing-doing ears.

The room at the Democratic National Convention filled with about 1,600 Bernie-crats to hear him address his followers exploded into with a loud series of boos at the mention of the party’s presumptive nominee’s name.

“His whole thing was, ‘Hey, we’re keeping the revolution going. We didn’t get what we wanted, but by golly, we’re not losing this movement,’ ” said Selina Vickers, 50, a Sanders delegate from West Virginia. “And then he did say, ‘We’ve got to get behind Hillary,’ and everybody booed. They just kept booing.”

He tried to soothe them, told them they had made history, but stopping Republican nominee Donald Trump was the bigger issue.

“We have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine,” he said. “Brothers and sisters, this is the real world that we live in. ... Trump has made bigotry and hatred the cornerstone of his campaign.”

It became clear, however, that while his supporters adore the independent senator from Vermont, he’s no longer their political Pied Piper.

“Everybody loves Bernie and what he stands for,” said Nkume Sobe, a 29-year-old Sanders delegate from Miami. “This isn’t about one person. It’s about principle; it’s about justice; it’s about equality.”

Sanders said Tuesday he was hopeful that, despite lingering emotions from the primary, his supporters would eventually “accept the reality” of Clinton as their nominee as the second day of the Democratic national convention began in Philadelphia.

“Democracy is a little bit messy sometimes, especially for young people who work their hearts out,” Sanders said at a Bloomberg Politics breakfast. “They worked against Hillary Clinton and now we’re saying we want you on board to support Hillary Clinton.”

Sanders also said he doesn’t expect to raise money for Clinton, either through his new successor organization, Our Revolution, or through other means. He cited her own fundraising power and a need for him to support down-ballot candidates through his vast list of donor e-mail addresses.

Still, there are other Sanders delegates who have said they will follow his lead and back Clinton, or that remain on the fence and are waiting to hear her acceptance speech Thursday night.

“I am somewhat disappointed in Sanders’ endorsement toward Hillary, said Jill Merchan, 23, a Sanders delegate from Charlotte, N.C. “I still don’t know.”

The antipathy of the Sanders backers toward Clinton soared over the weekend when emails revealed by WikiLeaks validated his claims that some Democratic National Committee officials were trying to undercut his campaign.

Yet the Sanders army had a terrific 48 hours. Saturday night, they got a pledge from the party to whittle down the number of superdelegates, or party officials unbound to their state’s results. Sunday, nemesis Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as party chair effective at the end of the convention. Then Monday, she decided not to take the stage or the gavel to start the convention. And Monday afternoon, the DNC apologized.

“On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process.”

There’s no guarantee any of these concessions will placate the Sanders brigade.

His backers continue to plot protests during convention business and challenges to vice presidential pick Tim Kaine. They are considering staying silent or walking out when Clinton speaks and backing daily protest marches around the city.

Now, though comes the most vexing question: What’s next?

The “Bernie or Bust” brigade sees Sanders as the voice of a liberal movement that will go on without him, and it’s got momentum and national attention as never before.

“It’s leaving compost that we’re going to grow a lot of,” said Norman Solomon, national coordinator of Delegates for Bernie.

Most of the Sanders holdouts are longtime activists who for years have been fighting for universal health care, serious steps to curb climate change and putting strong curbs on Wall Street.

Sanders said he agreed. “You have heard me say a million times that this campaign is not just about electing a president, as important as that is. It is building a movement to transform this country,” he told delegates.

He’s ultimately a team player, someone who is known in the Senate as someone who fights hard for his ideas and winds up a reliable Democratic vote. That sense was apparent Monday when he met with delegates.

Remember, Sanders said, you’ve shown that “the American people want a bold progressive agenda that takes on the billionaire class.”

Later, he sent an email elaborating. “What we have accomplished so far is nothing short of astonishing. When we began our campaign we were considered fringe and irrelevant by the pundits and the media,” he said. “Well, 13 million votes later, it appears that we have begun the process of transforming our country and radically changing the political landscape.”

That was good enough for Peggy Schantz, a Sanders delegate from Paris, France, and Democrats Abroad. “My eye is on the bigger picture,” she said, “and that means defeating Donald Trump.”

“I’m gonna be a Democrat,” said Manuel Zapata, a Sanders delegate from Tracy, Calif. “I think there’s something cool about living in a haunted house and I’ll stay till we can fix this.”

Bloomberg News contributed.