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Bernie Struggling to Contain His Revolution

But it's not clear that he's in control of the movement he began

Bernie Sanders speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Bernie Sanders speaks at the Democratic National Convention. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Bernie Sanders started a political revolution in 2016, but it became immediately obvious on the first day of the Democratic National Convention that Sanders is not entirely in control of the movement he began.  

The first signs of a mutiny in Bernieland came hours before the convention was gaveled to order in Philadelphia, as Sanders addressed a group of supporters eager to get their marching orders. When he signaled that the time had come to move on from battling Hillary Clinton and shift the focus to Republicans, Sanders could not rein in their anger.  

“We have got to defeat Donald Trump!” Sanders said to cheers. “And we have got to elect Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine!” For the next 60 seconds, Sanders tried to speak over boos that rained down. Holding his hands up to silence the jeers, he implored them, “Brothers and sisters! Brothers and sisters! … This is the real world we live in.”  

But the Berniacs didn’t want to hear about the real world. They weren’t done with the the fight that Bernie had begun.  

Elsewhere in the city, different pro-Sanders protestors were chanting the same anti-Clinton taunt that RNC delegates shouted in Cleveland last week, yelling, “Lock her up! Lock her up!” Another group shouted “Hell no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary!”  

At a Market Street hotel, the leader of “Delegates for Bernie,” Norman Solomon, made it clear he and his group weren’t done with Clinton, either, no matter what Sanders has to say.  

“We will take everything under advisement, including from Bernie Sanders, but we are totally independent of the Sanders campaign,” Solomon said. “As beloved as Bernie is, his brilliance comes from the fact that he’s not running the show.”  

Between the Wikileaks trove of DNC emails, the scandal engulfing DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Clinton’s choice of moderate Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, Solomon said progressives felt Clinton was continuing to “thumb her nose” at them. Challenging Kaine’s nomination on the floor of the convention this week could be one of their last chances to stop her progress.  

Karen Bernal, a Bernie delegate from California, said she’d heard “through the grapevine” that the Sanders campaign was pressuring them not to be so overt in their protests, both in the city and on the convention floor.  

“My job is to make sure that the wishes of my states’ delegation are heard,” Bernal said. “They are going to do what they feel is in keeping with the so-called political revolution.”  

The biggest test for Sanders and his revolution came Monday night, when he gave an unambiguous endorsement of Clinton and urged his supporters to follow suit. For the most part, they did.  

“To all of our supporters here and around the country, I hope you take enormous pride in what we have achieved,” he said. “We have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution, our revolution continues.”  

Even as many stood weeping on the convention floor, Sanders declared, “Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her tonight.”  

At that moment, Sanders’ presidential ambitions finally ended, but progressives say they expect him to be a force within the party and nationally.  

Because of the strength of his campaign, his opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership has now become accepted Democratic policy, even as President Barack Obama continues to support it. Sanders also won changes to the Democratic platform, and on Monday, the resignation of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the DNC.  

It may not be the White House, but Sanders is poised to nonetheless emerge from 2016 elections with more power and influence than he ever had before. If Democrats take back the Senate, Sanders is in line to take over the Health, Education, and Labor Committee, where he could leave his mark health care and welfare policy for a generation.  

He’s also likely to be the de facto leader of the often unwieldy progressive movement, even more so than Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who had unofficially occupied that role leading up to the 2016 elections.  

“I think Bernie will have way more influence than Warren because he’s shown the guts,” Solomon said. “He’s shown the guts.”  

Solomon also said more details of that possible challenge to Kaine will come out as the week goes on, whether or not Bernie endorses the fight.  

Roll Call columnist Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.

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