Joe Biden Now Faces The Task Of Winning Over Bernie Sanders' Movement

Apr 8, 2020
Originally published on April 8, 2020 8:47 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today Bernie Sanders announced he is ending his campaign for the presidency. And he acknowledged Joe Biden's lead is insurmountable. But Sanders also hinted this may not be the last we hear from him.

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BERNIE SANDERS: While Vice President Biden will be the nominee, we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions.

KELLY: So what's next for the Vermont senator? And what does he want? NPR's Domenico Montanaro has been pondering those questions.

Welcome, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Given how far ahead Biden is in the delegate count, did this announcement today come as a surprise?

MONTANARO: Not really. You know, Sanders said last month that he was assessing his campaign, that there wouldn't be an election for a few weeks, so he wanted to wait and see until then. You know, Wisconsin yesterday was that election. And, you know, though we don't have any results, polls had shown him pretty badly down in a state that he had won by double digits in 2016. Overall, you know, regardless of the outcome in Wisconsin, as you note, Sanders was down some 300 delegates. The math just wasn't there. And that's something he acknowledged in his video to supporters today.

KELLY: Do we know exactly what he means when he says he wants to, as we just heard him say, exert significant influence over the party platform?

MONTANARO: Yeah. And I wouldn't read too much into that as being something nefarious. I mean, I think, in fact, overall, I see what Sanders did today as far more warm toward Joe Biden than anything toward Hillary Clinton in 2016. You know, he's been able to enact a lot of rules changes since 2016, most notably that superdelegates can no longer vote on the first ballot at the convention. He wants to make sure that he can make a rule like that either permanent or at least through 2024, allies close to him say.

And he wants the Democratic Party platform to reflect much of what he stands for, I mean, addressing things like health care, income inequality, student loan debt. You know, now that can be accomplished in lots of ways. One prominent Democratic strategist I talked to this afternoon said that all of these things should wind up pretty easy to negotiate.

KELLY: What about his supporters, Domenico? Is Bernie Sanders going to be able to convince them? They are famously loyal. Will he convince them to go vote for Joe Biden?

MONTANARO: Yeah. You know, I think that that's going to take some work. Obviously, it's going to depend on how much Bernie Sanders appears to be in it. But there does appear to be a big difference between the relationship between Sanders and Biden versus Sanders and Hillary Clinton. They like each other. And politics is often about the personal. You heard Sanders today called Biden a, quote, "very decent man."

Biden has been respectful towards Sanders. He said - he called what he's created a movement. He doesn't kind of eye roll toward, you know, Sanders supporters. He said today, for example, that you're more than welcome, you're needed. So, you know, I think the political environment also is very different than 2016. Not a lot of people thought Donald Trump was going to win. So if Sanders supporters wanted to stage some kind of protest vote, they felt like maybe Clinton would anyway. This time around, Trump has a better than even money chance of winning.

KELLY: Worth just reminding that while Sanders was running to be the Democratic nominee for president, he never actually joined the Democratic Party. What will be his legacy in the party after two consecutive runs now to lead it and the country?

MONTANARO: That is true. And that was always kind of a thing of - kind of a badge of honor for Sanders. You know, he inspired millions of people, especially young people to believe that a more progressive direction for the country is possible. You know, many of his ardent young supporters have grown up with America at war, with economic turmoil, record income inequality, worsening climate change, crushing student loan debt. And Sanders really forced the conversation on lots of those issues, pushed them into the mainstream. And the party may not be there yet, but as Sanders noted, it could be the future.

KELLY: Thank you, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

KELLY: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.