Bernie Sanders is almost certainly not going to be the Democratic nominee. Though he retains a devoted following, the crowds, the attention and the money are no longer what they were — death for a campaign built on momentum. Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, holds a virtually insurmountable lead in both delegates and votes.
Passion is a valuable commodity in politics, and the time has come for team Sanders to redirect it. There are two useful paths at this point. No. 1 is joining Democrats, sensible Republicans and the rest of civilization in defeating the appalling Donald Trump. If Sanders and his troops can graft their idealism onto the realism of Clinton’s campaign, then Trump goes down in a pink puff of stage powder smoke.
No. 2 is turning that liberal energy into an enduring political force. That would require making the “movement” less about Bernie and more about ideas.
The thorny question is, how much of Sanders’ support is tied to one man? Sanders has won many young hearts, but turning a fan base into a voting bloc is not easy.
Some of Sanders’ more ardent backers seem to have taken Clinton’s criticisms of Sanders personally. A few vow to wave the bloody shirt, rather than support Clinton in the general election. It is Sanders’ job to lay out the stakes for them.
Whether he will wield that shovel is not entirely clear. Sanders says he will work to prevent a Trump presidency. But is he able to join a parade in which he is not grand marshal?
And there remain opportunities to get final digs in on Clinton. The greatest one will be the Democratic National Convention, where Sanders vows “to fight as hard as we can ... to make sure that we have a progressive platform.” You wonder whom he might want to smite and about what.
This might pain some of the revolutionaries, but in terms of getting progressive policies into law, Clinton has done worlds more than has Sanders. So have Elizabeth Warren and other members of the party that Sanders chose not to be a member of.
On the plus side, Sanders gives a rousing speech, and that’s not a small thing. (If only Clinton could borrow some of his populist thunder.) And for all the misgivings many have about his quixotic visions and youthful rumblings about “the establishment,” Sanders beyond a doubt has emboldened Democrats to champion their beliefs without apology.
And on the plus-plus side, some former Sanders staffers have started a group called Brand New Congress to turn the focus toward electing strong liberals to Congress. Without a cooperative Congress, the most progressive president is hampered. Just ask Barack Obama.
Opportunity knocks. With the scary Trump at the top of the ticket, Republicans risk losing their large House majority. There’s a reason, beyond conservative principles, why House Speaker Paul Ryan has taken the extraordinary step of withholding support for Trump.
By the way, Brand New Congress is a PAC. It’s into raising money for candidates. As Sanders correctly keeps saying, campaign finance overhaul is desperately needed. But as realists say, you need money right now to elect the people who would do the overhauling.
If Democrats retake the Senate majority, which is a strong possibility, Sanders would be in line to head the Senate budget committee. This is a choice chairmanship offering much power over taxes and spending.
But there’s a general election standing between now and that prospect. Can Sanders move his fiercest devotees to cast a ballot for her? And would he actually campaign for Clinton in earnest? The answer to this we are “Berning” to know.
Froma Harrop is a nationally syndicated columnist.