PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — There were no minced words, caveats, or lesser-of-two-evilisms.
Bernie Sanders, in every way possible, made it plain on Tuesday that he was endorsing Hillary Clinton, literally embracing her at a joint rally in a swing state whose Democratic primary voters overwhelmingly favored Sanders in February.
“That future will be shaped more by what happens on November 8 in voting booths across our nation than by any other event in the world. I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president,” Sanders said to a deafening roar from a mixed crowd of Clinton and Sanders supporters.
“Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here today,” the Vermont senator said, vowing to “do everything I can” to help her win.
It took Sanders more than a month to come around to formally backing Clinton, whom he cast throughout the primary season as an enabler of Wall Street. But instead of framing it as a capitulation to his erstwhile rival, Sanders positioned his endorsement as the logical continuation of his movement.
“Together we have begun a political revolution to transform America and that revolution continues,” Sanders said.
Instead of scrapping his usual policy-heavy stump speech, Sanders weaved Clinton into it. Over 30 minutes, he moved issue by and issue, explaining how the presumptive Democratic nominee is on the correct side of each one.
“Hillary Clinton understands that we must fix an economy in America that is rigged and that sends almost all new wealth and income to the top one percent,” he said.
Sanders even ad-libbed a few extra plaudits that were not in his prepared remarks, calling Clinton “one of the most intelligent people we have ever met.”
Clinton seemed happy. “That was so great!" her mic caught her saying to Sanders as they embraced.
The former secretary of state also seems to understand that while she won the primary, Sanders is ideologically closer to the hearts of many grassroots Democrats, especially in its next generation.
“Thank you. Thank you Bernie for your endorsement, but more than that, Thank you for your lifetime of fighting injustice. I am proud to be fighting alongside you,” Clinton said.
A better candidate with a better campaign strategy running on message like Sanders’ might have even beat Clinton this year.
Fully 85 percent of Sanders supporters say they’re likely to support Clinton in November, according to a recent Pew poll, suggesting a movement toward unity is moving even faster than it did in 2008.
Still, not everyone was ready to make amends. Some Sanders supporters walked out of the event when their candidate declared his support for Clinton. Others looked depressed and defeated. Sanders' Facebook page quickly filled with criticism.
Noah Levin, a 20-year-old college sophomore from Hampstead, New Hampshire said he’s considering voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in November, but added he would probably support Clinton if she keeps adopting Sanders' agenda. “There’s a lot of time between now and November,” Levin said. “There’s definitely movement and it’s definitely in a good direction.”
At the meeting of the Democrat Platform Committee last weekend in Orlando, Clinton’s team accepted more than 80 percent of what Sanders’ team wanted, according to his top policy aide, advancing what everyone agrees is the most progressive platform in party history.
The pieces Sanders didn’t get — like opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership and support for single-payer healthcare — was not based on ideology, but political concerns.
It’s a clear indication of how far the party has moved to the left since Clinton's husband ran for president in 1992 that she's now feting Sanders, who spent most of his life as a political gadfly on the ideological fringes.
When Sanders beat an incumbent Democrat to win the mayoralty of Burlington by 10 votes in 1980, Democrats never forgave him. "They were so furious, they didn't speak with us for 10 years,” recalled John Franco, a Sanders ally from the era. A local Democratic activist literally slapped Sanders across the face.
The Democratic Party then was heading into a long exile in the political wilderness, with the Reagan revolution and 12 years of Republican control of the White House.
It took Bill Clinton and his centrist Third Way New Democrats to return the party to power by shedding its liberal wing.
More than two decades later, Clinton seems to think she will need Sanders and his progressives to keep the party in power.