When Bernie Sanders ended months of speculation about whether—and how gracefully—he would endorse Hillary Clinton for president, he didn't take any chances he'd be misunderstood.
"Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination," he said within the first minute or two of his speech at a high school in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, "and I congratulate her."
A few seconds later, he added, "I have come here to make it as clear as possible as to why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton."
By the end of the speech, the Vermont senator was praising Clinton as "a great lady" and "one of the most intelligent people we have ever had."
Since the start of his campaign, Sanders has pretty consistently maintained that he's committed to getting a Democrat in the White House, regardless of how his own bid for the nomination turned out. But even after the end of primary season, it sometimes seemed unclear whether he might be too embittered by the contentious campaign to give his full-throated support to Clinton. His speech Tuesday was obviously carefully engineered to put those worries to rest.
But, while he put himself clearly in Clinton's camp, Sanders also emphasized the ways that he's been able to influence the Democratic Party. He highlighted progressive stances that Clinton and the Democratic Party have adopted over the past few weeks as they wrangled with Sanders over the terms of his defeat. He noted Clinton's support for a public option and a Medicare opt-in for people ages 55 and older—both moves that many on the left see as a step toward the kind of single-payer (i.e. government-run) health plan Sanders supports. He also praised Clinton's new plan that would let students from families making $125,000 a year or less attend state colleges tuition-free, a slightly watered-down version of his own free-college plan.
Sanders gave both campaigns credit for helping to craft "by far the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party"—a platform that includes demands for a $15 minimum wage and the abolition of the death penalty, though not opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement or an end to fracking, as the Sanders campaign had hoped.
For her part, Clinton did not hesitate to adopt some of her formal rival's rhetoric.
"We need an economy that works for everybody, not just the millionaires and billionaires," she said onstage, before calling for the "biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II."
One stark difference between the candidates during the primaries was between Sanders's fierce rhetoric and Clinton's emphasis on pragmatism and her description of herself as "a progressive who gets things done. " But on Tuesday, she praised Sanders for his saltiness.
"His reputation for passionate advocacy hasn't always made him the most popular person in Washington," she said. "But you know what? That's generally a sign you're doing something right."
Not all of Sanders's fans are willing to follow their candidate in endorsing Clinton. Throughout the rally, bursts of discontent went up from people in the crowd holding "Bernie" signs. And before the rally started, there was a small, vocal Never Hillary contingent on display outside the school, though it was a bit hard to distinguish the authentic Sanders supporters from a few scattered pro-Trump protestors. One man shouted at the crowd in line at the door: "Hillary loves to murder brown people. You guys should be OK." A guy named Clay King told me he wouldn't ever vote for Clinton, regardless of Sanders's opinion. "She's got a track record that is criminal," he said.
Some Clinton boosters were visibly annoyed at the intransigent Sanders supporters. "This is sort of the tee-ball thing—people have been brought up with that mentality that everybody wins," said longtime Clinton supporter Sheryl Weis.
Sally Edgecombe, an Ohio woman who stopped by the rally during a vacation in New Hampshire, said she voted for Clinton in 2008 and again in this year's primary, but she likes a lot of Sanders's ideas. Still, she was frustrated by some of his supporters.
"I'm surprised that a lot of them are 'Bernie or bust," she said. "I feel like they're not paying attention to reality." But she added she's hoping they're just still reeling from their candidate's defeat and will come around soon.
During his speech, Sanders pushed back against the idea held by some of his supporters that the Republican and Democratic Parties are interchangeable and that voting for Clinton wouldn't be any different than voting for Trump.
"If anyone out there thinks this election is not important, take a moment to think about the Supreme Court justices that Donald Trump will nominate," he said.
Others were satisfied that the party is already unifying—a notion that's supported by polls that showed Clinton winning over the vast majority of Sanders voters even before he made his endorsement. A mother-daughter pair who had been split during the primaries—the daughter figuring Clinton was the better bet to beat Trump, while the mother stuck with Sanders—said they're happy to be on the same team now. "We're both against Trump," the mom said.
Regarding Sanders endorsing Clinton, she added, "I wish it were the other way around, but what can you do?"
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