Juan Williams: Dems must pay price to keep Sanders sweet

Juan Williams: Dems must pay price to keep Sanders sweet

What does Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders: Trump budget ‘must be defeated’ The Hill's 12:30 Report Sanders will 'absolutely' work with Trump to lower prescription drug costs MORE (I-Vt.) want in exchange for endorsing Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump tweets: 'Trump Russia story is a hoax' Path to 60 narrows for Trump pick Overnight Cybersecurity: New questions for House Intel chair over WH visit | Cyber war debate heats up | Firm finds security flaws in 'panic buttons' MORE?

And what can Clinton and the Democratic Party give Sanders to get him to campaign aggressively for her in the fall, harnessing the voting power of the passionate, mostly young, white left-wing voters who favor him?

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Obviously, Sanders expects a prime-time speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention. Neither the Clinton camp nor the party’s leadership will have a problem with that demand.

But what if he wants to be the vice presidential candidate on a Clinton-led ticket?

That is a reach.

Sanders’ “socialist” label is a liability in a general election. The Vermonter will hurt Clinton’s effort to win support from political moderates, especially older voters. Sanders would also be a bridge too far for Republicans disenchanted by their party’s wild primary season and the prospect of either Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump to undo Obama's climate change agenda Kushner met Russian bank executives: report Trump tweets: 'Trump Russia story is a hoax' MORE or Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzConservatism's worst enemy? The Freedom Caucus. Republicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report How 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation MORE (R-Texas) as the GOP’s presidential candidate.

Adding Sanders to the ticket would also create an opening for Republican ad-makers. They would gleefully target his past congressional votes opposing tax cuts, the Patriot Act and new military defenses against a possible Iranian missile attack.

But if Sanders is not to be made the prospective veep, Democrats will have to find something else to give him. After all, he has exceeded all expectations during the primary season. The depth of his support was underlined by his three strong victories on Saturday in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington. And Democrats live in fear of a him mounting a third-party run along the lines of the populist campaign run by Ralph Nader in 2000 that arguably gave the White House to George W. Bush.

The heart of this troublesome political puzzle for Democrats is how to get Sanders’s passionate supporters to line up behind Clinton. In early March, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a third of the people voting for Sanders saying they “cannot see themselves voting for Hillary Clinton in November.”

The Nation magazine, a leading voice of the left, reported recently that “nearly 60,000 people have signed the ‘Bernie or Bust’ pledge,” vowing to remain loyal to him even if Clinton wins the nomination.

The Clinton campaign’s chief strategist, Joel Benenson, speaking in a recent Washington Post interview, charged Sanders with becoming “increasingly negative.” Sanders frequently points out to his crowds that several polls show him doing better than Clinton against Republican candidates in the general election.

President Obama is now getting involved in this escalating debate. According to The New York Times, the president privately told Texas Democrats that Sanders’s continuing campaign against Clinton stalls party organizers, donors and activists from getting started on beating the GOP in the fall campaign.

The president and leading Democrats in Congress are all but calling for Sanders to get out of the race now. The Democrats’ unstated anxiety is that Clinton, while a clear winner among primary voters, does not set the campaign trail on fire. Sanders and Trump, the leading candidate for the GOP nomination, are arsonists by comparison. The Vermonter continues to ignite the party’s base with his calls for a “political revolution.”

Even after he lost in Arizona last week — while winning smaller contests in Utah and Idaho — and saw Clinton increase her lead in the contest for delegates, Sanders continued to condemn a “corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy.” Clinton’s campaign is taking money from political action committees while Sanders is not.

Sanders is also casting an unfavorable light on Clinton by celebrating “the kind of energy and excitement” of his crowds and claiming that it is because “we are telling the truth.” He did not mention Clinton but the comparison is obvious, if implicit.

Sanders’s number one issue is income inequality. He continues to accuse Clinton of being too close to Wall Street, further arguing that this makes it implausible that she will rein in wealthy bankers and hedge fund managers.

It is easy to see how his followers might be convinced she is the no-change, establishment candidate and become permanently turned off to Clinton.

Sanders’s lack of formal connection to the Democratic Party is another part of the political problem. At an Ohio town hall meeting earlier this month, he admitted to having considered running for president as an independent but decided to run as a Democrat because “in terms of media coverage — you have to run within the Democratic Party.”

Last year, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner (D), whose wife Huma Abedin is a top Clinton aide, publicly expressed the reservations Democratic insiders still have about Sanders, even as they ask him to get in line behind Clinton.

“What exactly does he think he’s doing in a Democratic presidential primary?” Weiner wrote in Business Insider last July. “Why is he asking for the nomination of a party he always avoided joining…Now he wants to not only be a member of the party but its standard bearer?”

The answer for Weiner is the answer for the Democrats. To bring Sanders inside the camp they will have to do more than make him a TV star at the convention. They will also have to put Clinton, union organizers and money behind his issues, creating a permanent movement based inside the party for a living wage, for lower-cost college education and a sharper critique of Wall Street.

The party is going to have to buy into Sanders if they want him to buy into them.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel. His latest book, "We The People," will be published by Crown on April 5.