Some of the Vermont senator’s backers think the president is trying to end the Democratic fight prematurely.
Bernie Sanders’ supporters have some advice for President Barack Obama: Back off.
Thursday morning in the Oval Office, Obama will take his not-so-subtle campaign to ease Sanders out of an active campaign directly to the senator himself. But he’ll need to be diplomatic.
Even as some top supporters have started backing down since Tuesday night, when Hillary Clinton claimed the Democratic nomination — and as a planned Sanders letter to superdelegates campaigning for them to support him rather than Clinton appears in limbo — frustration is bubbling among those who want the senator to keep the campaign going.
In their view, the president is trying to prematurely end the fight. They warn that it won’t work and that the blowback might show him he’s not as popular with the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party as he might like to think.
“The president is not Sen. Sanders’ boss. We’ve got to get this straight here,” said Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator who’s been traveling the country on behalf of the campaign. “There’s respect that’s for the commander in chief … but Sen. Sanders is duly elected, and he’ll make his own decisions.”
“In some ways, even though [the president’s] numbers are good, and good with the Democratic base, he overestimates,” said a Democratic strategist aligned with Sanders. “Much of the activist Bernie movement — I think he overestimates his strength with those people.”
The campaign is hypersensitive to any whiff of being treated as a smaller, protest candidacy, to failures to acknowledge that Sanders won more than 40 percent of the primary vote, or to being dismissed by what they see as the Democratic establishment. And an endorsement of Hillary Clinton by a president who many Sanders supporters believe fell short of his progressive promise has that establishment smell.
“They don’t want to see him shoved to the side,” the Democratic strategist said. “A lot of love is going to be more productive than a lot of pressure. There’s a strain out there that just wants to hit [Sanders] with a 2-by-4 and say, ‘get out.’ The better course is to show appreciation and engagement and show how much the party needs this guy.”
Sanders has never been much interested in what Democratic leaders have had to say about his presidential bid, and every call along the way for him to drop out seems only to have encouraged him to push ahead. That’s left prominent Clinton supporters worried about what the reaction to Obama’s urging will be.
“People talk to Bernie. But Bernie marches to his own drum. And that’s true if Clinton talks to him or if Obama talks to him,” said Clinton ally and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. “The president deserves an A for effort, but I’m not sure he’s going to have much of an impact.”
Sanders’ campaign itself has worked hard to look as conciliatory as possible to Obama, despite the shots others are taking.
“The president’s been great to Bernie. That’s all I’m going to say,” said Sanders strategist Tad Devine on Wednesday morning, before ducking into a lobby elevator at the Sheraton in Universal City, California, en route to returning to Vermont with the senator’s entourage. “That’s all I’m going to say. That’s what I told his people.”
But shivers have been going through the Sanders camp. Tuesday night in Santa Monica, the room exploded in relief as soon as the candidate made clear he was continuing — there was palpable anxiety that he was about to drop out.
That feeling reached to the inner circle of the campaign, with Sanders in meetings Wednesday in both California and Vermont with his wife, Devine and campaign manager Jeff Weaver.
Meanwhile, Obama’s been working the outreach, praising Sanders in his statement Tuesday night even as he congratulated Clinton for clinching the nomination, and then again in his appearance on the “Tonight Show,” taped Wednesday.
Wednesday night, at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser on the Upper West Side, Obama caught himself. “Now, we just ended — or sort of ended — our primary season.”
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One earlier Wednesday flying to New York, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama acknowledges as a two-term president that he’s part of the establishment in many ways but feels he’s been able to keep his connection to the grass roots alive.
Earnest also cited Obama’s high poll numbers with Democrats.
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