With a single word on Friday morning, Bernie Sanders officially became the president of the Hold Your Nose and Vote for Hillary Clinton Club. When asked during an interview on MSNBC if he would back the presumptive Democratic nominee in the general election, Sanders replied, in a tone of dry practicality, “Yes.”
Which, you know, of course.
Sanders had all but said as much, without actually saying it, about 12 hours earlier, in front of a rapturous audience at the Town Hall Theater in New York City.
“Our goal from day one has been to transform this nation,” he said Thursday night before launching into a 75-minute speech that covered issues from college debt to life expectancy under extreme poverty. And while he never mentioned Clinton by name, the Vermont senator did say, many times over, that he would do everything in his power to defeat Donald Trump.
“We understand that Trump is so—I mean, it’s hard almost to imagine a man who has such limited capabilities becoming president,” Sanders told the crowd. “What is even uglier is that you think about the struggles that we have gone through as a nation—the hundreds of years fighting against racism, fighting against sexism—and that this guy is making the cornerstone of his campaign bigotry.”
Now unless Sanders has been bunkered up somewhere discovering a way to get the bankruptcy-happy businessman turned Republican nominee off the ticket, a pledge to defeat Donald Trump come November is a pledge to get Hillary Clinton elected.
Which was hard to stomach for some attendees. A man sitting to my left shouted “Fuck Hillary” at different points in the speech when Sanders talked about Wall Street, super PACs, and super delegates. Before the speech, a woman in a “Never Hillary” T-Shirt bobbed along to “Keep on Rocking in the Free World” and chatted with the people around her. And two women I spoke to before Sanders took the stage said that, while they would never vote for Trump, they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton, either. They were still considering their options for November, they said.
But others I spoke to that night had come around to Clinton in much the same way that Sanders had: by necessity. Backing Clinton may not be part of Sanders’ political revolution, but a Democratic president means a stopgap against the prospect of a Congress that may remain in Republican hands and Supreme Court nominees that could shift the ideological makeup of the country's highest court.
“It’s kind of scary where we’re coming up in November,” Anita Long, a smiley 59-year-old from the Bronx, told me. “I can’t even say that Hillary will definitely win because she has so many people here who don’t like her and refuse to vote for her."
Long understood the decision not to vote for Clinton, she said, and even felt that way for a while. But she ultimately decided that a Clinton vote was something she could live with.
“I don’t want to put Trump into play,” she told me. “That’s what is pushing me to vote for her. I think that’s what I have to do.”
But she also saw her enduring support for Sanders, and her presence at the speech that night, as pushing Clinton, too: “Let her see this, this energy that is still here for Bernie,” she said, gesturing around the theater. “I hope she is forced to see this and know that we're here.”