In a series of television appearances Friday morning, Bernie Sanders took small steps toward what is ultimately going to be a robust endorsement of the woman who defeated him for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton.
Sanders told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that “in all likelihood” his vote in November would be for Clinton. He was less cagey on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, answering “yes” to a question about whether he would wind up voting for HRC, even as he refused to fold his own campaign. On CBS he explained that he was not close to a formal endorsement of Clinton because “I have not heard her say the things that I think needs to be said,” mentioning his positions on college tuition, the minimum wage, and health care as items she needs to embrace.
The more Sanders dances around these obvious questions, the more he will, of course, be asked them. So here’s some unsolicited advice: (1) Come up with a formulation for your attitude toward Clinton’s candidacy and stick to it robotically (ask your Senate colleague Marco Rubio for advice on how to do that, if you find this difficult); and (2) either develop a clear list of demands you are making in exchange for your endorsement, and don’t keep changing it, or avoid specifics altogether and talk vaguely about a “revolution.”
Without question, Bernie Sanders is in a difficult position. The whole world knows he will eventually have to support Clinton; the longer he delays supporting her, the more enthusiastic he will have to be, and the longer the path from here to there becomes. Being publicly churlish about Clinton does not increase his actual leverage, but it does embolden the Bernie or Bust faction of his supporters who may be hoping he’ll stay neutral or get behind Jill Stein. Maybe Ted Kennedy’s answer back in 1979 when he was asked about supporting Jimmy Carter’s reelection is a good model: “I expect the president to run, and I expect to support him.” He wound up running against Carter, but, in the meantime, he didn’t have to think fast about how to answer questions about his intentions. Bernie Sanders could use a similar cue card.