Commentary: Why Bernie Sanders supporters won't just go away

Why are the Bernie Sanders people so determined to make trouble for the Democrats? Don’t they understand that disrupting the convention and sabotaging the Hillary Clinton campaign will only help elect Donald Trump?

A supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders cries as another supporter looks on at the end of his speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

Guess what? Many of them don’t care.

They include a lot of young independents who have no loyalty to the Democratic Party. Sanders himself is an independent who chooses to caucus with Democrats in the Senate. His support for Democrats is contingent. If he doesn’t agree with them on the issues, he can go his own way.

Right now, Sanders is being a good soldier. He endorsed Clinton two weeks ago, pledging, “I will do everything possible to make certain she will be the next president of the United States.” When Sanders met with his convention delegates in Philadelphia on Monday morning, he told them, “We've got to defeat Donald Trump. We've got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.” 

His remarks were met with sustained booing. To which he responded plaintively, “Brothers and sisters, this is the real world we live in.”

But it’s not the world many of his supporters live in. They are furious over the leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee revealing discussions among party leaders about how to sabotage the Sanders campaign. 

The Democratic National Committee has officially apologized for the emails. Party officials claim the leaks are part of a plot by Russian hackers to undermine Clinton and help elect Trump, who is preferred by Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the DNC does not deny the validity of the leaks.

Some Sanders supporters make a more sophisticated argument. Let Trump win, they say. He would be awful, but after one term, he would be discredited. The defeat would give progressives the opportunity to take over the de-Clintonized Democratic Party and come to power in four years.

The French have a name for this. They call it la politique du pire: the worse things get, the better it is. It’s a noxious doctrine that puts political expediency above the welfare of the country.

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It's not clear that Sanders can control his people. “I think there is a lot of justifiable upset about the way things were handled at the DNC,” Sanders' campaign manager said. “We would certainly encourage people to be respectful, but I can't guarantee how our people will respond.”

Last week, Republicans in Cleveland were divided over Trump, but the situation never became disruptive. Democrats expected their convention to be a sharp contrast with the GOP. They predicted unity and harmony. Then the hacked e-mails were revealed. That led many Sanders supporters to conclude that the nomination was a rigged process. 

Sanders' former press secretary tried to dispel that idea. “Let me be clear,” she said. “No one stole this election.” 

To little avail. Sanders supporters shouted down speakers who urged delegates to support Clinton. Sanders had to send out text messages urging his people “not to engage in any kind of protest on the floor” or “our credibility as a movement will be damaged.” 

 His supporters have credibility because Sanders had such a strong showing -- 13.5 million votes in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, nearly as many as Trump got on the Republican side.

Some Sanders supporters say they will refuse to vote for Clinton. They’ll vote for the Green Party candidate. That will help elect Trump, just as liberals who voted for Green candidate Ralph Nader in 2000 helped elect George W. Bush. The rule is, if you vote for a third party candidate, you are helping the candidate you like least.

It makes sense only if you truly believe that it makes no difference whether Trump or Clinton gets elected. One is just as bad as the other.

 A few Sanders people may believe that. They say they are trying to make a “political revolution,” and Clinton's refusal to think big - her “incrementalism” -- enrages them. Her critics call it “can't-do-ism.”

Even when it became clear than Sanders couldn’t win the Democratic nomination, he refused to give up. At a Sanders rally in California just before the June 7 primary, a Clinton supporter held up a sign that said, “Bernie -- Get Over Yourself!” He has finally done that. But not all of his supporters have.

So you get actor Viggo Mortensen saying, “I trust Hillary about as much as I trust Donald Trump.” He says he'll vote for the Green Party. 

But you also get actress Sarah Silverman telling the Democratic convention, “Can I just say to the Bernie-or-bust people, you're being ridiculous.” She said she will “proudly” vote for Clinton.

In his convention speech Monday night, Sanders said, “We have begun a political revolution that will transform America, and that revolution - our revolution - continues.” 

The only way you get a political revolution in this country is when one party enjoys a sweeping victory that gives it control of the White House and Congress. That’s how we got the New Deal in the 1930s, the Great Society in the 1960s and the Reagan Revolution in the 1980s.

It could happen this year if the backlash against Trump delivers a landslide victory for Democrats. For that to happen, the Sanders people will have to set aside their misgivings and say, “I’m with her.”

About the Author

Bill Schneider is a visiting professor in the Communication Studies Department at the University of California - Los Angeles.

The views expressed in this article are not those of Reuters News.