Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric is hot, but there are hints he is starting the end game

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

In the final weeks of the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric has been fiery. Moreover, he continues to say he will likely fight until the convention.

All this happens as Sanders declines versus Clinton in national polls and polls in the biggest states to come — New Jersey and California — look bad for Sanders.

While there’s no doubt Sanders will stay in the race through the big June 7 primaries and likely until the final contest on June 14, there are signs he’s laying the foundation for the end of his campaign.

First, Sanders has laid out markers for primary successes that would lead him to go on to the convention. Logically, this means if he doesn’t hit those markers, there isn’t a logic for continuing the campaign.

For example, here’s an interchange between Sanders and a Los Angeles television reporter:

Sanders: I think we have a realistic chance, in the sense that if we do really well in California and the other five states and in the other nonstate primaries, it is possible for us to get fifty percent of the pledged delegates.

Reporter: Will you carry that to the convention?

Sanders: Of course.

Note the conditions Sanders lays out – doing “really well in California” as well as in the other primaries. If he doesn’t do well, there’s a rationale for suspending his campaign.

Now, it’s possible this is isn’t that meaningful. After all, Sanders hasn’t said he’d only ask superdelegates to support him if he won the pledged delegates, the ones won through primaries and caucuses.

And he could claim he had done “really well” in the final primaries while others wouldn’t judge the contests that way.

Still, many losses at the end, or even weak wins, would undermine Sanders’ stated standard for when he should go on as a candidate.

Second, by Sanders getting some of what he wants from the Democratic party, Sanders shows his supporters that his candidacy has delivered for them. This will make it easier for him to concede to Clinton.

One of the main things Sanders he wants is to change some policies of the Democratic Party, as expressed in its party platform.

Now Sanders has been able to name many of the members of the Platform Committee.

Party platforms are largely symbolic documents in that the United States does not have cohesive, disciplined parties that make candidates pledge to support the platform. However, that does not make platforms meaningless.

Sanders was given the power to choose nearly as many members of the Democratic Party platform-writing body as Clinton, who is expected to clinch the nomination next month. Reporter Anne Gearan of the Washington Post characterized this as “unprecedented say over the Democratic Party platform.”

That influence resulted from an agreement worked out this month between the two candidates and Democratic Party officials, according to Democratic officials familiar with the arrangement.

As Sanders and Clinton have been continuing to campaign, their staff members have been involved in these negotiations, suggesting there could be other cross-campaign discussions behind the scenes.

The negotiations and its outcome can be read as a demonstration that Clinton and the DNC respect Sanders and his voters.

One of the members of the committee Sanders has named is a vocal, fiery Obama critic, Cornel West. While some Clinton backers are not happy he has been named to the platform committee, having someone on it who appears to be disliked by them but is likely liked by many Sanders supporters especially delivers the message that Sanders has been able to act with autonomy.

That sense that Sen. Sanders has won something and has been treated with respect helps Sanders and his supporters move on from his (very, very likely) loss.

Now, it is imaginable that platform fights could become difficult, particularly on policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. That possibility could have Democrats nervous.

However, Democrats are better off having Sanders backers in the committee, where they will be negotiating, rather than having Sanders and his strongest supporters feeling upset because he got less representation than he wanted in this body.

As Lyndon Johnson put it with a certain vulgarity, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.