Hillary Clinton was hoping for a resounding endorsement from Bernie Sanders Monday night, and she got it.
Her one-time rival delivered a political valentine.
“Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight,” he told a packed Democratic convention.
The crowd cheered – repeatedly. Clinton supporters for his praise of their candidate, Sanders backers for his mentions of the causes that tapped into a desire for political change and led them by surprising numbers to his campaign.
But making good on his pledge to his former Senate colleague and former top U.S. diplomat has put him at odds with many of his ideologically unyielding followers. They dismiss Clinton as an untrustworthy tool of Wall Street.
That was evident at a meeting between Sanders and his supporters earlier in the day, when his plea for unity fell largely on angry, nothing-doing ears. Calling on them to get behind her, the room exploded into a loud series of boos. It was an unmistakable statement of rejection.
"We're quite unified in the sense that there is not one person in this room who will vote for Donald Trump," said Sanders supporter Kiria Willig of Miami, who was not yet willing to follow Sanders’ lead.
Selina Vickers, 50, a Sanders delegate from West Virginia was having none of it.
“His whole thing was, ‘Hey, we’re keeping the revolution going. We didn’t get what we wanted, but by golly, we’re not losing this movement,’ ” she said of his earlier session with supporters. “And then he did say, ‘We've got to get behind Hillary,’ and everybody booed. They just kept booing.”
Still, Sanders fans stood on the floor Monday night during his speech, rapt, their admiration for the man behind a movement they hope will continue, even as they disagree. Many Clinton backers remained in their chairs casting an occasional baleful eye at the Sanders' delegates.
But the revolt against his about-face, which dominated the convention buzz throughout the day, faded, for the moment at least.
The feeling inside the hall was electric, after rousing speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a favorite of Democratic progressives and Sanders fans. He took the stage to three minutes of sustained applause, looking out onto a sea of blue Sanders T-shirts and signs, even among some Clinton backers.
The darling of the party’s liberal wing and trigger of a political rebellion that shook the Democratic Party, Sanders said that it was “no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues.... That’s what democracy is about.”
But he praised her as a champion on health care and children’s needs, and as a leader who would seek to lessen the role of money in politics. He said she needed to win to prevent Republican nominee Donald Trump from choosing justices for the Supreme Court.
“I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years,” Sanders said. “I remember her as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children.”
Still, the divide between the man and his movement appears deep. While his supporters adore the independent senator from Vermont, he’s no longer their political Pied Piper.
“Everybody loves Bernie and what he stands for,” said Nkume Sobe, a 29-year-old Sanders delegate from Miami. “This isn’t about one person. It’s about principle; it’s about justice; it’s about equality.”
“I am somewhat disappointed in Sanders’ endorsement toward Hillary,” said Jill Merchan, 23, a Sanders delegate from Charlotte, N.C. “I still don’t know.”
The antipathy of the Sanders backers toward Clinton soared over the weekend when emails revealed by WikiLeaks validated his claims that some Democratic National Committee officials were trying to undercut his campaign.
Yet the Sanders army had a terrific 48 hours. Saturday night, they got a pledge from the party to whittle down the number of superdelegates, or party officials unbound to their state’s results. Sunday, nemesis Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as party chair effective at the end of the convention. Then Monday, she decided not to take the stage or the gavel to start the convention. And Monday afternoon, the DNC apologized.
“On behalf of everyone at the DNC, we want to offer a deep and sincere apology to Senator Sanders, his supporters, and the entire Democratic Party for the inexcusable remarks made over email. These comments do not reflect the values of the DNC or our steadfast commitment to neutrality during the nominating process.”
I intend to do everything I can to see that he is defeated.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, speaking to supporters about Republican nominee Donald Trump
There’s no guarantee any of these concessions will placate the Sanders brigade.
His backers continue to plot protests during convention business and challenges to vice presidential pick Tim Kaine. They are considering staying silent or walking out when Clinton speaks and backing daily protest marches around the city.
Now, though comes the most vexing question: What’s next?
The “Bernie or Bust” forces see Sanders as the voice of a liberal movement that will go on without him, and it’s got momentum and national attention as never before.
“It’s leaving compost that we’re going to grow a lot of,” said Norman Solomon, national coordinator of Delegates for Bernie.
Very, very strong overwhelming support for challenge to Tim Kaine’s nomination.
Norman Solomon, national coordinator of Delegates for Bernie.
Most of the Sanders holdouts are longtime activists who for years have been fighting for universal health care, serious steps to curb climate change and putting strong curbs on Wall Street.
Sanders said he agreed. “You have heard me say a million times that this campaign is not just about electing a president, as important as that is. It is building a movement to transform this country,” he told delegates.
He’s ultimately a team player, someone who is known in the Senate as someone who fights hard for his ideas and winds up a reliable Democratic vote. That sense was apparent Monday when he met with delegates.
Remember, Sanders said, you’ve shown that “the American people want a bold progressive agenda that takes on the billionaire class.”
Later, he sent an email elaborating. “What we have accomplished so far is nothing short of astonishing. When we began our campaign we were considered fringe and irrelevant by the pundits and the media,” he said. “Well, 13 million votes later, it appears that we have begun the process of transforming our country and radically changing the political landscape.”
That was good enough for Peggy Schantz, a Sanders delegate from Paris, France, and Democrats Abroad. “My eye is on the bigger picture,” she said, “and that means defeating Donald Trump.”
“I’m gonna be a Democrat,” said Manuel Zapata, a Sanders delegate from Tracy, Calif. “ I think there’s something cool about living in a haunted house, and I’ll stay till we can fix this.”
Lesley Clark of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed.