However Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont may spin it, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has locked up the Democratic presidential nomination. And on Tuesday she'll far surpass the magic number of 2,383 delegate required to claim the mantle with solid showings in New Jersey, California and four other states.
Even so, Sanders, who stunned the political world by winning more than 20 state primaries and caucuses while overshadowing Clinton in fundraising and public enthusiasm, has vowed to soldier on to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in mid-July in hopes of persuading hundreds of superdelegates to switch their support from Clinton to him.
However, short of some cataclysmic political event that dramatically changes the political narrative from here on out – such as an indictment emerging from the ongoing FBI investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her four years at the State Department – Clinton will face presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump in this fall’s general election.
Some critics worry that Sanders is hurting Clinton by staying in the race too long. Sanders and his senior advisers see things quite differently, arguing that Clinton is a highly flawed candidate beholden to party officials and Wall Street, and that national polling repeatedly confirms that he would be a far stronger candidate against Trump this fall.
“The plan is as the senator has described it: to go forward after Tuesday and keep the campaign going to the convention and make the case to superdelegates that Sen. Sanders is the best chance that Democrats have to beat Trump,” Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told The Wall Street Journal.
If Sanders falls well short of that goal, as many Democrats and political analyst assume, he still will have created a remarkable political legacy in a relatively short period of time. Here are seven ways that Sanders has altered the political landscape:
1. Bold ideas. Sanders showed the power of fresh and bold ideas in rallying the public – especially young people and college students -- and overcoming entrenched political forces.
While Clinton flailed for months while trying to find her voice and effective campaign themes, the 74-year-old democratic socialist energized his party’s liberal wing with calls for a “revolution” to help the middle class, rein in the worst excesses of Wall Street and prevent “millionaires and billionaires” from buying elections. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator who recently won a Democratic primary race for Congress, said that the Sanders movement “brought Occupy Wall Street into Democratic presidential politics.”
2. Speaking up. He enunciated -- as few others have – the frustration and outrage of middle class and lower income Americans who feel left behind or betrayed by government economic and trade policies that have contributed to stagnant wages and the loss of U.S. jobs. Although Clinton and many public policy experts dismissed Sanders as a dreamer or impractical, his policies once regarded as radical -- such as tuition-free public colleges and universal health care – have now drawn the support of many millions of Americans.
3. Fundraising. He reinvented ways to raise large sums of campaign funds without relying on deep-pocketed special interests and lobbyists. He provided a roadmap for future insurgent candidates rejecting the support of super PACs, raising more than $212 million through mostly small contributions. Clinton entered the Democratic field a year ago viewed as an unstoppable campaign juggernaut, but as the campaign wore on Sanders repeatedly topped her in quarterly campaign contributions.
4. Pulling Clinton to the left. He forced Clinton to move far to the left of her initial positions on a raft of issues, including trade, health care reform, prescription drug pricing, the minimum wage, energy production and Social Security.
She was driven to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal she once backed as President Obama’s secretary of state, and belatedly came out against approval of construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline after Sanders and environmental groups made it a major issue. She largely mimicked some of Sanders’s proposals for reining in exorbitant prescription drug prices. And she recently proposed extending Medicare coverage to millions of uninsured Americans below the age of 65 in response to Sanders’s call for a “Medicare for all” national health care system to supplant Obamacare.
5. Foreign policy. He challenged Clinton’s judgement on a number of key international issues. Sanders throughout his career was an isolationist who opposed the use of force to project U.S. policies overseas. As a House member, he railed against the Bush Administration’s plans to invade Iraq in 2002 and this year castigated Clinton’s vote in the Senate in support of the post-9/11 military action.
Sanders also said that Clinton showed dubious judgment as secretary of state by encouraging President Obama to support international military action that toppled Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and created a dangerous power vacuum in that country that attracted ISIS and other terrorist groups. He also has challenged traditional U.S. policy towards Israel and repeatedly criticized the Israeli military for having used “disproportionate” force against the Palestinians during fighting in Gaza in the summer of 2014.
6. The primary system. He highlighted flaws in Democratic national and state party primary rules that he argued thwarted party building. Those include the use by many states of closed primaries that bar Democratic-leaning voters from participating in primary elections.
He also has complained about the role that superdelegates play in choosing the nominee. Sanders notes that hundreds of superdelegates – party officials, elected office holders and others who automatically are entitled to vote at the national convention – pledged their support to Clinton before a single primary vote was cast.
Both of these practices are certain to come in for close scrutiny at the national convention this summer.
7. A new influence. Sanders has been largely a marginal figure in the House and Senate throughout his long career in Congress, rarely succeeding at imposing his ideas on his colleagues. But assuming he plays his cards right, he will be a major player in shaping his party’s platform this summer and pushing Clinton much further to the left than may be comfortable for her in battling Trump and shaping her agenda if she wins the election.
“Sanders will never be president but he has clearly moved the Democratic Party to the left,” Larry J. Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist, said on Monday. “Probably the platform and maybe even the vice presidential candidate will reflect Sanders' influence.”
“This is remarkable for a backbench senator who didn't even call himself a Democrat until a few months ago,” Sabato added. “It may or may not prove to be a good thing for the Democrats. We'll see whether he acts constructively or destructively between now and November.”