Two weeks ago in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Bernie Sanders stood on a stage with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and endorsed her—finally. The official show of support was more than a month in the making. What little drama was left in the Democratic primary ended on June 7, when Clinton won the final two remaining big-ticket nominating contests on the calendar: New Jersey and California. But Sanders had dragged his feet in endorsing her, using the threat of a contested convention to win a few notable victories in the party platform. Anyway, when he finally did what he had more or less been promising he would eventually do all year, the only question that remained was whether his army of supporters would fall in line.
On Monday, the opening day of the Democratic National Convention, it felt like they wouldn’t. The discord was apparent from even before the gavel fell to start the convention, with Bernie supporters booing everyone from the DNC chairwoman they despise, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to the Democratic candidate they ostensibly trust above all others, Sanders himself, at delegate meetings that began the day. But then, Michelle Obama stole the show with the most moving, unifying speech of the night. And not long after, Bernie Sanders arrived to deliver the most anticipated.
Sanders began by stating the obvious on a day when many of his supporters attempted to shout down any- and everyone they deemed part of the Democratic establishment. “I understand that many people here in this convention hall and around the country are disappointed about the final results of the nominating process,” Sanders said. “I think it’s fair to say that no one is more disappointed than I am.” Based on the number of delegates the cameras captured openly weeping or yelling in the crowd during his speech, I’m not positive Sanders’ assessment was accurate. Bernie, though, did seem genuine in both his disappointment that he wouldn’t be the nominee and in his desire to support the woman who will be.
“We need leadership which brings our people together and makes us stronger, not leadership that insults Latinos, Mexicans, Muslims, and women,” Sanders said, jabbing his right hand into the air for effect in the stilted rhythm of his shouted words. “By these measures, any objective observer will conclude that based on her ideas and her leadership, Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States.”
The speech itself was remarkably similar to the one Sanders had given in New Hampshire. He opened by spending longer than expected talking about the success of his own campaign and praising his supporters, telling them, “I look forward to your votes during roll call.” But then he moved on, focusing on the substantial areas of policy agreement he shares with Hillary, and the many, many, many areas where they both disagree with Donald J. Trump. “If you don’t believe this election is important, if you think you can sit it out,” he warned in a near carbon copy of a line he delivered earlier this month, “take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump would nominate, and what that would mean to civil liberties, equal rights and the future of our country.”
To me, his most persuasive argument came early in his wind-up. “I hope you take enormous pride in the historical accomplishments we have achieved,” he said. “Together, my friends, we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution, our revolution, continues.” Translation: A vote for Clinton this November doesn’t mean an end to the struggle, only a temporary cease-fire in order to keep Trump out of the White House. It wasn’t an original message, but it was one some of his supporters could stand to hear again. It was also another reminder to the Bernie-or-bust contingent that if they forge ahead with their anti-Clinton attacks, they’ll be doing it on their own.
So, did Sanders succeed in quelling the rebellion his supporters had launched his name? In the short-term, I doubt it. His delegates will have the chance to cause some more trouble for Clinton and her establishment friends during this week’s roll-call vote, and they are unlikely to stay quiet during the rest of the action. But I maintain that by the time Clinton takes the stage on Thursday night, few voters outside of the convention hall will remember the party discord that was on display Monday. And for that, Bernie deserves some credit.