PHILADELPHIA ― It was with sorrow and discontent that delegates supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed the media on Wednesday morning. Sorrow that their candidate had been reduced to having to support Hillary Clinton for president ― though they would never say publicly that the endorsement was given under threat or duress. Discontent that they were expected to do the same the morning after Clinton officially became the Democratic nominee for president.
In a hotel conference room at the Downtown Marriott in Philadelphia, officials with the Bernie Delegates Network, an independent network of about 1,250 Sanders delegates to the national convention, struggled to explain what the next steps were for their members. They wouldn’t be supporting Donald Trump, that much was clear. But whether that meant that they’d be backing Clinton was less so.
“They are accustomed to really healthy granola,” said Norman Solomon, a Sanders delegate from California who is also the national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network. “And they get into the convention and they hear puffy white bread. It’s a shock to their system.”
That was one ― admittedly crunchy ― metaphor for the state of play in Sanders’ world. What it means in practical terms, according to Solomon, is that these delegates are new to politics, and, perhaps, put off by the pageantry of the convention, which they feel has served to paper over serious policy qualms that still exist.
Take, for example, the two major stories from last night’s affair: Clinton becoming the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination and one of her closest confidants (Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe) saying that she would likely reverse her newfound opposition to the trade deal with Pacific countries. The latter was treated as cause for crisis ― “corrosive” is how Solomon put it; the former as a symbolic footnote.
“I am a human first and a woman second,” said Karen Bernal, a Sanders delegate from Sacramento, California. “And, let’s be honest here, when that time comes if it comes ― and I would rather see that than Trump ― it is going to be a moment.” But, she added, “I didn’t feel anything when Margaret Thatcher [was elected prime minister].”
“I think in many ways Bernie Sanders is much more of a feminist than Hillary Clinton is, she added.”
What complicates sentiments like these is that, on the broad matter of electing a new president, they veer away from Sanders’ own objective. The Vermont senator has endorsed Clinton, urged his supporters to back her and read her name into the nomination. And yet, on Wednesday morning, the delegates were touting data to show just how unmoved they have been by efforts to woo them into Clinton’s corner.
A survey of roughly 300 of them revealed that Monday’s conventions speeches had made only 21 percent more enthusiastic about the expected Democratic ticket, with 55 percent saying they were less enthusiastic. Only 2.8 percent found the pick of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as a vice presidential candidate to be “acceptable’” while 88 percent found it unacceptable. And then there’s this: while 43 percent said they were considerably influenced by Sanders’ personal pleas for them to not protest at the convention, a full 27 percent said they weren’t influenced at all.
Both Solomon and Bernal made the case that Sanders supporters should back Clinton in swing states. But they were reluctant to say anything even superficially positive about the Democratic ticket. They want to hold on to some leverage, both over policy and even over the candidate.
“In a sense, many of the Bernie delegates are trying to save the Hillary campaign from itself,” said Solomon.
This raises a question in the process: How is it that a presidential candidate who inspired all these people to get politically involved could suddenly see such limitations on his powers of persuasion?
“I have to believe that deep down, secretly, [Bernie] is quite happy about some things,” Bernal said of their forms of protest. As for the “fire” that Sanders had created, she said, “he never was in control of it.”