“Never, ever lose your sense of outrage,” Bernie Sanders told a raucous crowd at Manhattan’s Town Hall theater Thursday evening. His “Where We Go From Here” speech, billed as a roadmap for sanguine Sanderistas still bullish on his candidacy and everything it represents, was partly about ginning up that sense of outrage, and partly about channeling it into the kind of material change Sanders has promised to deliver throughout his campaign.
Many audience members Thursday clearly continued to struggle with the fact that Sanders almost certainly won’t be delivering that change as president. Where they go from here — to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump or a third-party candidate — remains to be seen.
Where Sanders himself goes is clearer: He’ll spend the coming weeks traveling around the country, a bit like a revivalist minister, campaigning to see the ideals he’s built his candidacy on enshrined in the Democratic Party platform, and on behalf of down-ballot progressives whom he hopes will push for those things as well. (On Friday he’s set to deliver his speech again, in Syracuse, before a campaign event with congressional candidate Eric Kingson; next week, he’ll be in California campaigning for San Francisco supervisor turned state Senate candidate Jane Kim.)
At this point, those goals seem to have superseded Sanders’ efforts to campaign for the actual nomination. When asked by C-SPAN earlier this week whether he’ll have a speaking slot at the convention, he said, “It doesn’t appear that I’m going to be the nominee.” And in multiple interviews Friday, he indicated that he would in all likelihood vote for Hillary Clinton in the fall. “I think the issue right here is I’m going to do everything I can to defeat Donald Trump,” he told Morning Joe.
For some of Sanders’ supporters — like the woman waving a flame-embellished “NEVER H$LLARY” sign throughout Thursday’s rally — that remains a tough pill to swallow.
Sanders is breaking it to his supporters gradually (in dating, some call this the “slow fade”), and starting by rhetorically phasing himself out of the equation. “Election days come and go, but what is much more important is that political and social revolutions continue,” Sanders said Thursday. “This political revolution is not about Bernie Sanders, it’s not about [campaign surrogate] Nina Turner. It’s about you and millions of other people. What the political revolution means is that you are the revolutionaries.”
Sanders railed against Trump and the bigotry the presumptive GOP nominee has made a “cornerstone” of his campaign on Thursday, but he stopped short of encouraging his supporters to back Clinton. In one big way, the outrage some of those supporters feel about her is still valuable to his campaign.
“The minute he concedes and gets out of the race, officially he loses all bargaining leverage,” Sanders supporter and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich tells Rolling Stone. “Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee [hope] that he will get out of the race and endorse Hillary and urge all of his followers to vote for Hillary. That hope and expectation gives him a little bit of bargaining leverage right now. I don’t know that it’s all that much, but it’s better than nothing.”
The new phase the Sanders campaign embarked on this week is all about making clear what he’s after. It started with an op-ed in the Washington Post (headline: “Here’s what we want“). His demands are ambitious — nothing less than a complete overhaul of the financial and criminal justice systems, plus meaningful action on climate change and and a complete transformation of how the Democratic Party works — which is why he needs to maintain his supporters, and their outrage, if he’s going to succeed.