What Bernie Sanders Wants – and What He Can Offer

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, May 23, 2016, in Los Angeles.PlayJae C. Hong/AP Photo
WATCH Who is Bernie Sanders?

Without waiting for California’s crucial primary results to come in, Bernie Sanders said late Tuesday that he was nonetheless going to compete in the next primary, in Washington, D.C., and beyond. The news highlighted a potentially tumultuous time ahead for Democratic voters as Hillary Clinton, just hours before, celebrated a historic feat as the first woman to claim the mantle of presumptive Democratic nominee.

Despite the public rhetoric and promises, it is clear that the Sanders campaign’s daily operations are changing dramatically and winding down. From senior advisers to lower-level staff members, many in the Sanders universe talked late Tuesday night as though it was an end of an era for them. The campaign confirmed that over the next week, more than half its staffers will be laid off.

One of Sanders’ top advisers, Tad Devine, told reporters Tuesday that in order for the campaign to have any chance at flipping crucial superdelegates — a task the senator has mentioned often over the last weeks but notably did not bring up during last night’s rally — the team would need to have some big wins in its pocket. Without California, staffers acknowledged, the already hard argument to these party elites that they should go against the popular vote becomes much harder.

And some top Sanders supporters are showing signs of throwing in the towel.

“Once a candidate has won a majority of the pledged delegates and a majority of the popular vote, which Secretary Clinton has now done, we have our nominee,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Sanders endorser, told The Washington Post. “This is the moment when we need to start bringing parts of the party together so they can go into the convention with locked arms and go out of the convention unified into the general election.”

As he vows to continue the fight, here’s a look at what may be next for Sanders:

What Bernie Wants

It’s a question that's been puzzling Democratic operatives, both inside and outside the Clinton campaign, for weeks now: What does Sanders want? That is, now that it's obvious he won't get what he really wants, what will he settle for?

Now it is up to Sanders to sort through the sometimes conflicting advice of his advisers and get over any personal affronts to chart a new path forward. It seems clear that he has earned the right to something — and something more than a party platform can deliver. As dangerous as he was to Clinton's campaign, he could now be a powerful force for the Democratic Party. But first he needs to decide and enunciate what he wants.

Pressure on the Platform

The work of reaching out to and connecting with party officials would be be a dramatic shift for the senator, who has spent remarkably little time this campaign calling and building relationships with elected and party officials. So the senator will more likely focus his attention on the more achievable task of influencing the party’s platform. Grass-roots groups maintain that in order for the party to come together successfully before the general election, Clinton should validate some of Sanders’ key agenda items and give his fans a few wins.

Last month the Sanders campaign won a sizable victory when the party agreed to allow the campaign to appoint one-third of the platform committee members. The senator and his team chose an environmental activist, a Native American tribal leader and other progressive thinkers to fill its five slots, and the group starts meeting later this week. Sanders’ top advisers say he and the campaign will spend time in the coming weeks drafting a game plan for its elected delegates at all levels before the convention.

In the Money

The campaign will ramp up the use of its golden email list, estimated to be 2 million to 3 million strong, to help fundraise for progressive down-ticket candidates. On Tuesday the senator announced two more endorsements of progressive congressional candidates and asked his fans to donate to their campaigns. Sanders has already raised more than $2 million for his chosen Democrats, including Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Tim Canova of Florida, who has mounted a primary challenge against Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

According to the campaign, over 10,000 people contributed to a Vermont State Senate candidate after Sanders picked him and directed his followers his way. The Sanders campaign says its email blast generated enough donations to fully fund the local candidate's campaign.

“Politicians are many things, but they are not dumb, and they understand that if people are united and want something, they better give it to them or the politicians will join the ranks of the unemployed,” Sanders told his crowd in Palo Alto, California, last week.

Future of the Movement

Several of the groups backing the senator, including environmental organizations and the National Nurses United union have planned an event for mid-June that they are calling the People’s Summit. During the meeting, they are hoping like-minded progressives brainstorm ways to harness the energy and creativity seen in Sanders’ campaign. Organizers are still hoping the he will attend the event. Regardless of whether Sanders chooses to plant his flag with them, there have been swirling reports that top staffers and advisers are pushing Sanders to consider different avenues and models for building his own progressive activist organization.

Sanders told reporters this week the most important priority for Democrats should be defeating Donald Trump. “It is clear to me that we have got to do everything that we can as a nation to make certain that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States,” he said Monday, the morning after talking to President Barack Obama on the phone.

Whether Sanders eventually endorses Clinton or not, fights until the last superdelegate votes or not, Democratic voters can be certain he will campaigning in some capacity against the bombastic billionaire.