What’s next for Bernie Sanders?

What’s next for Bernie Sanders?
© Greg Nash

Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads Sanders by single digits in South Carolina: poll Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Biden will go after Bloomberg, Sanders at Las Vegas debate, aides say MORE faces a pivotal moment after the Democrats’ final presidential primary of 2016 on Tuesday, when he shows whether he’ll help unify the party and what marks his insurgent campaign will leave. 

Still up in the air is how actively he will work to bring his supporters in line behind presumptive presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton asked if she'd be Bloomberg's vice president: 'Oh no' Trump launches three-day campaign rally blitz Free Roger Stone MORE and how strongly he will tie his own support to her acceptance of his main policy priorities.

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“After the last votes are cast … it will be time for him to step up and let us know how he wants to move forward,” said Mo Elleithee, the executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, who worked on Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

“Whether or not, how quickly he endorses her will be the question. How quickly he starts campaigning with or for the ticket is going to be important, and what he and his supporters are trying to get into the platform will be the question.”

Those three matters are top of mind for most Democrats hoping to bring the party under the same banner to defeat presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFed saw risks to US economy fading before coronavirus spread quickened Pro-Trump super PAC hits Biden with new Spanish-language ad in Nevada Britain announces immigration policy barring unskilled migrants MORE in November.

Sanders has already set the stage for an endorsement by promising to do whatever it takes to deny Trump the White House while emphasizing his future goal of pushing the party’s platform in a more progressive direction.

And he’s already sent signals that his next steps won’t be as an official candidate.

After weeks of insisting he would try to win the nomination by convincing party superdelegates to back him instead of Clinton, Sanders didn’t mention that plan during a rally last week in Washington and deflected repeated questions over the weekend about whether he was still an active candidate.

And after a Sunday meeting with his inner circle, Sanders specifically emphasized to reporters that he is taking “this campaign and our ideas for a strong platform” to the party’s national convention in July — but not necessarily his candidacy.  

“Are we going to take our campaign for transforming the Democratic Party into the convention? Absolutely,” the Vermont senator said outside his home in the state.

“We are going to take our campaign to the convention with the full understanding that we are very good with arithmetic and we know who has received the most votes up until now.”

Sanders and Clinton will meet Tuesday — as the District holds the last nominating contest — for what Sanders has described as a listening session to understand what type of party platform Clinton plans to support. 

That could affect how he chooses to back her, he said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

He said he wants to know “whether she will be vigorous in standing up for working families and the middle class, moving aggressively in climate change, healthcare for all, making public colleges and universities tuition-free.”

“After we have that kind of discussion and after we can determine whether or not we are going to have a strong and progressive platform, I will be able to make other decisions.”

Many Democrats expect an endorsement soon after, with Sanders bringing his legion of young, progressive supporters under the party umbrella.

“Him being out there is going to be important, just like her being out there was important for [Barack] Obama,” Elleithee said.

Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, told The Hill that although he expects Sanders to endorse and campaign for Clinton, it’s OK if he doesn’t sprint to stand under her banner.

“It’s clear he’s going to do that, the only question is when. The best way to accomplish it is not necessarily running 100 miles per hour in one direction, stopping on a dime, and running 100 miles per hour in the other direction,” he said.

“If you turn too abruptly, you risk losing the real path to getting as many people as possible to join you.”

Campaign aides did not return a request for comment, but Sanders adviser Tad Devine told The Hill last month that the candidate wants to be “centrally involved” in the party’s platform and rules discussions.

“For Bernie, it’s bigger than the party rules and process. He has a deep commitment to try to re-energize democracy in America; that was one of the motivating forces that got him into the race to begin with,” Devine said in May.

The Sanders campaign is likely to seek superdelegate reform and push for more open primaries that allow independents to vote, and it could potentially seek to unseat Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Clinton has already signaled an openness to discuss the role of superdelegates — party leaders who can vote for any candidate — an issue that became a thorn in her side throughout the primary process despite her strong lead among pledged delegates.

And then there are the policy fights to be had.

Sanders successfully lobbied the party to give him one-third of the seats on the powerful platform drafting committee, giving him substantially more representation than previous second-place finishers have had. 

Sanders and his platform representatives have already pointed to several leading issues, including a $15 federal minimum wage, opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and a more inclusive approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict.  

But the question remains as to how hard Sanders and his allies will push, knowing that any party instability could leave the door open for Trump and jeopardize Sanders’s legacy.

“In his standing and his ability to move the progressive agenda in the Senate and beyond, he’s gone from being in no position when this all started to being a real force. I don’t see any reason to squander that,” Trippi said.

“In a lot of ways, Trump is more unifying than Reagan ever was [for Democrats]. There’s more glue than ever before, probably, which is ironic.”