BROOKLYN — Before there was a Glass Ceiling speech in Washington, there were jaws on the floor in Manhattan.
On the night of June 3, 2008, Hillary Rodham Clinton summoned the sweaty, exasperated travelling press corps to a windowless auditorium at Baruch College, a careworn link in the city’s university system known for churning out business degrees. Despite the humble surroundings, it had the makings of a moment – the eve of the final two contests of the perpetual primary, and rumors flew that Clinton would end her battle against Barack Obama right there and then.
Story Continued Below
Not a chance – she had one more middle finger to aim at the hope-and-change candidate. “Whatever path I travel next, I promise I will keep faith…” she concluded ambiguously, and annoyingly. Nobody wanted her to travel anywhere at that point, not even her staff, they just wanted her to get out. Several reporters, professionals with good health insurance who double-recorded every event just in case the first recorder cut out, booed and hissed in the grubby filing center. I might have been one of them.
“She was still too pissed off, and she wasn’t ready to concede yet,” one of Clinton’s top 2008 staffers told me. “She was basically Bernie Sanders – she wanted to give one more big f—k you speech, she was doing the whole system-is-unfair rant, she was convinced the superdelegates had screwed her over. She was in the same place. She understands where his head is at.”
But she doesn’t, not really. Despite their superficial similarities (insurmountable delegate deficit, pressure from party elders, the absence of anymore Super any-days), Clinton and Sanders were — and are — two very different politicians headed in very different directions.
Sanders is older, with less to lose, angrier, and aiming to break an entire political-economic system, not just bust a hole in a barrier as Clinton’s ’08 campaign sought to do. His crowds are still big – he’s a smaller man without them – and isn’t exactly looking forward to heading back to the diminished vistas of the United States Senate.
What he will do now – whether he intends to fight on against Clinton and the math of winning the nomination in his adopted party – is the final unwritten chapter of the 2016 primaries.
Here are five takeaways on the last big day of an unforgettable political season that reaped the whirlwind.
Hillary Clinton is the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination. Caveats crowd the woman like bad vibes at a Trump rally in a multi-racial urban population center. Emails, her husband’s affairs, trust issues, abysmal unpopularity numbers, flip-flops on trade and gay marriage, questions if she’s the authentic progressive the party demands this year, you know the drill. But the Republic has been around for 240 years and no woman has even come this close to winning the presidency, and that’s not nothing. Actually, it’s quite something.
The Sanders campaign may demand the coronation be delayed until the convention, but Hillary Clinton will be the Democrat’s nominee for president in 2016 and that is a moment worth honoring, even if you don’t support her candidacy. Women represent more than half of the country’s voting population, but they are 0-44 when it comes to the presidency – and Clinton is one step closer to the ultimate prize 100 years after Jeanette Rankin of Montana became the first woman to be elected to the House and 96 years since the passage of the 19th Amendment granting woman the right to vote.
Shirley Chisholm, the black Brooklyn congresswoman who ran a quixotic and courageous campaign for the White House in 1972, famously said, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” For all her flaws, Clinton never folded, despite personal and political adversity, and her grit has finally earned her a place in the American political pantheon no matter what happens in November.
How many Republicans will un-endorse Donald Trump? With Clinton pinned down by Sanders in a protracted primary battle, Trump surged in the polls against Clinton and put a fright into Democrats who were already measuring the inaugural drapes.
Then came one of the Donald-being-Donald eruptions that so often bounced off his one-man campaign harmlessly – except this time it didn’t. Trump’s preemptive attack on the Mexican-American judge in the case against his for-profit university sparked a wave of GOP revulsion the likes he had yet to see. Sen. Lindsey Graham (admittedly the most reluctant endorser in GOP field) essentially suggested un-endorsing his party’s presumptive nominee, calling Trump’s outburst “un-American.”
Said Graham: “If he continues this line of attack I think people really need to reconsider the future of the party,” Graham said earlier this week. No one else immediately followed suit, but there was a collective shunning that took root as the implication of questioning a judge based on ethnicity sunk in – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell not-so-delicately suggested Trump “start talking about the issues that the American people care about and to start doing it now.”
Those weren’t exactly fighting words – but they suggested an end to the shaky détente between Trump and the party establishment – at the precise moment Clinton began pivoting away from Sanders to her general-election opponent. “The illusion that the Democrats were the party in the midst of a civil war is fading away,” said a top adviser to a former Trump opponent.
Release the hounds! For the past couple of months, Clinton’s Brooklyn-based surrogate handlers have muzzled Democratic allies who wanted to whack Sanders for staying in the race beyond what they believed to be his sell-by date. While Clinton herself will continue her policy of being polite and more-or-less non-confrontational to the sensitive second-place finisher, several people close to the campaign say the hold on surrogates was officially removed Tuesday night.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid has already prodded the Vermont senator to return to the back bench – and other Clinton allies like California Congressman Xavier Becerra have suggested as much too. Expect those statements to become significantly more pointed as talks between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns drag on, people close to the former secretary of state said.
What does Bernie want? That’s the big question as Democrats seek to consolidate their party with a self-described Socialist who spent the past week vowing to create a “contested” convention in Philadelphia next month. Sanders supporters are clearly gunning for a sweeping overhaul of party rules that close primaries to many independents – and they are also pushing for an end to the superdelegate system that the candidate has both decried as a scourge against democracy – and his only remaining path to the nomination.
But popular also-rans – and Sanders was on pace to rack up seven-plus million votes by Tuesday night (three million fewer than Clinton) – want real power. And nascent negotiations between the two camps haven’t progressed far enough to determine precisely what Sanders’ wish-list includes. In a podcast interview earlier this year, Sanders strategist Tad Devine floated the idea of Clinton naming him as her vice-president. But sources on both sides say that’s highly unlikely, given Sanders’ age and the bitterness of his late campaigning.
More likely: A fulsome consideration of more stringent Wall Street regulation (the Clinton campaign has been in quiet talks with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on those issues and other for weeks), party platform language that permanently bonds Clinton to her recent anti-free-trade stances and a coordinated policy to attack income inequality.
What does Jane want? Sanders, propelled by his massive crowds and popularity with youth voters, simply hasn’t accepted that Clinton – who has run a plodding, efficient and less-than-scintillating campaign – has actually bested him. Still, Sanders does recognize the end is near, according to Democrats and Sanders supporters – but he’s surrounded by an inner circle of advisers, led by feisty campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, who have convinced him that he still has a shot and should give little ground for the sake of leverage in future talks with Clinton.
But his most militant adviser is his wife Jane, who has spurred him to step up his attacks on Clinton; The former university president – such a power in her husband’s world she was once given a desk in his Senate office – is still holding out, people close to the situation tell me.
“She’s as powerful as Hillary was in Bill’s ’92 campaign,” a Sanders supporter told me. “As she goes, so goes Bernie.”