One of the hardest things for a campaign, particularly one completely engaged in the fight, is to see beyond itself. Typically, this only gets worse when campaigns, both ones winning and losing, reach the desperate phase — the point when you have simply run out of options because the end is near. Every candidate wants to win, so no campaign, at any level of the ballot, is immune.
Right now, Bernie Sanders falls into this box. Over the past month or so, as it became more and more clear his campaign is nearing the end, the campaign has taken on a sharper edge, saying and doing things that make it harder for him to land the plane softly. But now the plane is going to land regardless – and after tomorrow, there really is no tomorrow.
If he were to ask, below is the advice I would give to Bernie Sanders.
So here goes, my Memo to Bernie Sanders
1. Use Your Political Capital Wisely: You will never have more political capital than you have today, but every day that goes by, you will lose a bit of your capital. Whether you want it to or not, the party is going to move on. You want to define the terms of your exit, not have it defined for you, and in this frame, you need to figure out what deliverables they can actually give you. As you know, politics is zero-sum, so be realistic, and remember, that conversation isn’t the end game.
2. You need to go all in for her: It may be counter-intuitive, but the success of your movement — and your ability to lead it, is entirely dependent on Hillary Clinton winning. If she loses, your movement won’t look to you for leadership, but instead will start looking for new candidates — and many Democrats will blame you for the loss. But when she wins, you can use your movement to push for more progressive policies.
3. Don’t obsess about the platform: No one has ever read it. No one ever will. And yes, the nomination process in both parties is messed up. But that isn’t today’s fight – beating Donald Trump is.
4. Help her win, then take credit for it: Right now, the sense is the Democratic Party is not united. You often say that you can’t make your followers do what you want, but we all know this isn’t true. Just like Hillary Clinton made it easy for her supporters to join up with Obama, you need to do the same. And when she wins in November, driven by a united Democratic coalition, the campaign obits will all give you credit for it, and all of the sudden, you will find yourself in charge of an incredibly powerful movement — with a president who can help you get things done.
5. Think long term. Change doesn’t happen in Washington, change starts in local communities. Encourage and help your activists run for school boards, city commissions, and state legislatures. Your campaign has been a moment — but you can build a movement by inspiring a generation of young activists to understand a lifetime of public service is an honorable one, and look back in 15-20 years and see what real change looks like.
The biggest thing you should do Wednesday is get some sleep. Go back to Burlington for a day or two, get your team off the television, and take a day or two to catch your breath. At some level, I’ve been there. After three months in the barrel for Joe Biden, it was hard to stop fighting. But with space and rest, the path will become clear.
And senator, remember leadership isn’t just about inspiring a movement, it is also about knowing when to lead your team off the mountain before you are trapped in a storm. Your job now is to give your movement the best chance to succeed in the future. Your loudest supporters will want you to push on — but your job is to help them understand why it is time to move on.