How Bernie Can Fight for the Nomination and Build Unity at the...

How Bernie Can Fight for the Nomination and Build Unity at the Same Time

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In the short time since I posted, “What Bernie Should Do Now,” it seems that things may be aligning with the course that I recommended. What I proposed was that Bernie should now focus his efforts for winning the nomination on demonstrating that he is the best able to take on Trump and bring him down.

Then, in an interview with Rachel Maddow, Bernie seemed to indicate that this was a case he was eager to make for himself. Rachel was asking Bernie about his suggesting that, at the convention, the superdelegates should weigh “other factors” besides who has the most pledged delegates coming into the convention. The other factor that Bernie specified was this:

The strength of each of us in taking on the Republican candidate. What I think is most important to all the delegates, including the superdelegates, is that we have a candidate who will win and not allow Donald Trump to end up in the White House.

Now, as I write, the headline story on Huffington Post is an article from Politico that says that “nearly a dozen Democratic lawmakers suggested in interviews that Sanders should focus more on stopping Donald Trump and less on why he believes Clinton’s stands….would make her a flawed president.”

The article quotes Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) as saying, “If the contrast is now about what separates us from Donald Trump, then I think it’s fine [for Senator Sanders to keep campaigning].” And it quotes Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) as saying that Bernie’s campaign “ought to be in the context of ‘This is the difference between Democrats and Republicans in this race.”

Admittedly, these two Senators are stressing the importance of Democratic unity on the assumption that the candidate whom they have endorsed – Hillary Clinton – is going to be the standard-bearer behind whom the Party needs to unify.

But Bernie can fully endorse the need for unity without accepting the assumption that the article calls the subtext of the comments they report: namely, “the general view among Democrats that Sanders has no path to win.”

The need for unity is implied by Bernie’s own comment that the essential requirement of this process is that Donald Trump not “end up in the White House.” Of course, the more fully the two camps in this Democratic race come together, the less chance there is of a President Trump armed with the nuclear football, the bully pulpit, and all the powers vested in the office by the Constitution (not to mention what powers he might simply seize for himself.)

But it is hardly the case that going after Trump (and the GOP) is merely clearing a path for Hillary. There is no limit to what creativity combined with Bernie’s integrity, smarts, and rhetorical power can do with the assignment, “Go after Donald Trump and bring him down.”

Thus the essential point is this: while Bernie going after Trump may seem to Hillary’s supporters an acknowledgment that the race is over, Bernie can make it a new and potentially powerful way for him to win that race.

Bernie suggested to Rachel Maddow that delegates to the convention should weigh the relative “strength” of the two candidates in “taking on the Republican candidate.” If assessing that strength is to be an important part of the process, Bernie would be making a big mistake to wait until the convention to make that case. Why be reduced to arguing that he’s the stronger candidate when he can use the next four months for demonstrating it.

Bernie auditions for the part of general election candidate while doing no damage to his Democratic rival. Indeed, he’d be giving her a weakened foe should she emerge as the nominee.

This represents a kind of competition that is fully compatible with the vital goal of building unity for the fall election.

Building that unity should be another explicit part of Bernie’s campaign going forward.

Bernie should begin now – given his saying that “what…is most important to all… is that we…win…and not allow Donald Trump to end up in the White House” – to stress the importance of both his followers and Hillary’s committing now to unify behind whomever emerges as the nominee.

He should call upon his supporters to make that commitment, and he should call upon Hillary to exhort her supporters to do likewise. And he can frame all that within the kind of statement that goes after Donald Trump and all that he represents about what’s gone wrong with the Republican Party.

  • Andy Schmookler

    This piece got a comment on Daily Kos in which the commenter said: “Bernie has been using “pathological liar” in interviews and in speeches
    when describing The Donald. I am not sure what else he should do….
    Nothing anyone has tried so far has slowed the support that Trump has
    gathered around him.”

    I’d like to share here my reply:

    Trump has gathered a fairly steady level of support from the
    Republican base. Nothing Bernie can say will peel those people away.
    But Trump’s 40% of the Republican electorate is only about 10% of the American people. There are many more people — even among those who tend to vote Republican — that can be influenced.

    The “pathological liar” quote was a good one (although Trump is actually a different kind of liar than that described in the clinical definition of “pathological liar,” who is someone who lies for no particular purpose). Bernie also said today that Trump is “an embarassment, even to the Republican Party.” Also good.

    The question is how much of a sustained critique is Bernie willing to launch. I would like to see him go after Trump in such ways that he gets under Trump’s
    skin, and provokes Trump to respond. Once such an interaction were to
    begin, then Bernie would have a chance to show how adept he is at the
    kind of sparring the general election would consist of.

    We have watched a variety of Republican rivals take on Trump and, for the
    most part, come out the worse for it. Jeb mishandled it. Rubio
    mishandled it. Fiorina did it perhaps best, but she was playing defense.

    My father once advised me, “Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.” But the Democrats are going to need a candidate who can do just that, and have the skunk be the one who comes out smelling bad.

    My sense is that Bernie would be able to do that— using his integrity and his truth-telling and his moral passion to contrast with Donald Trump, who is the opposite on all three counts.