How a Sanders-Clinton Thaw Could Play Out
The acrimony between Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, inflamed in recent weeks, is likely to be resolved with a series of compromises that will bring relative unity in the weeks after next month's final primaries.
Limited conversations between supporters of the two candidates have been productive and both sides are guardedly optimistic, despite the sharp barbs the campaigns exchanged in recent weeks. With Clinton almost certain to be the Democratic nominee and polls showing her in a tight race with the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump, Democrats are worried that internal friction could weaken the party in the general election.
"It's going to take a conscious effort for the winning candidate to be gracious and the opposing candidate to see the larger goal," says Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat and Sanders supporter. Although Merkley hasn't had any conversations with the Clinton forces, he expressed confidence that "the road is being paved" for a rapprochement.
Two of the people serving as bridges between the two camps are Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 presidential run, and Leah Daughtry, a pastor who's the chief executive officer of the Democratic National Convention this year. These two influential black women have credibility both with progressives and party regulars.
Their involvement has offset a major source of tension, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, has come under attack from the Sanders camp for a supposed pro-Clinton bias, in particular after she criticized Sanders for not condemning violent acts by some of his Nevada supporters. The Clintonites, who are not big fans of the party chairwoman either, have instructed her to tone it down and be more accommodating. Sanders was pleased this week when he got a sizable representation on the party's platform committee, including a few left-wingers.
There are several primaries remaining, including the big June 7 California contest. Sanders advisers say that if he wins decisively there and scores an upset that day in New Jersey --and polls continue to show him a stronger general election candidate against Trump -- it may cause some Democrats to reconsider.
That is more than a long-shot and the Sanders camp has started to consider how best to preserve "the Bernie brand" when the nominating contest ends. That would include winning important platform planks and getting credit for energizing Democrats in the fall campaign.
"Should Clinton win the nomination, it's absolutely critical to get the grassroots of the party and they are Sanders's," Merkley says.
There are concessions the Sanders people feel they must win, including revising the election process for the next cycle, and that the Clinton forces aren't expected to resist. There are important issues for the "Bernie brand" in the platform, and some are relatively easy, such as language that is tough on Wall Street. Other demands probably will include a call for an expansion of health-care coverage, but that would stop short of the Vermont lawmaker's single-payer system; calling for overturning Supreme Court decisions that have unleashed torrents of special-interest monies; and going along with Sanders's call for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
There may be arguments over environmental issues. Sanders wants to ban fracking, the Clinton forces aren't likely to want to go that far.
Sanders insiders say some recent articles suggesting that the candidate has taken on a Ralph Nader quality, determined to pursue his own agenda even if he damages the party, are dead wrong. In 2000, Nader's third-party candidacy cost Democrat Al Gore the election.
These supporters insist that the Vermont socialist has contempt for Trump and is dismissive of a Nader-type role.
They also say that the Clinton side needs to show more skill and sensitivity in treating the likely runner-up with respect, giving him a full airing at the Philadelphia convention and reining in the party chairwoman.
There are relationships that should prove helpful in the weeks ahead. Both Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta and Sanders's strategist Tad Devine are veterans of Democratic campaigns and have worked together. The Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook is from Vermont.
The Clinton campaign says that starting in June Sanders must try to control some of his more fervent followers and bring in line some of the Never Hillary contingent among them. There might be resistance.
"Most of his followers," Merkley predicted, "will look to Senator Sanders for a signal."
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