At 2020 campaign events, it’s common to hear voters rattle off a shortlist of candidates they’re willing to vote for. The Sanders supporters I spoke with yesterday, however, have only one name on their list.
“Bernie is really the only candidate in my lifetime that I think I can trust,” said Peter Vellon, a 51-year-old history professor from Long Island.
“The party needs to move to the left, and Bernie’s the only candidate who can do that,” said Gary Pallens, a 66-year-old retired pharmaceutical-industry worker from Westchester County, New York.
Talking with voters in the crowd, though, I noticed a real shift from the “Bernie or bust” attitude many Sanders supporters have had since 2016. That could be linked to the additional time they’ve spent watching other candidates, especially Warren, and realizing that they may need to settle. But mostly it seemed to be a reaction to Donald Trump, and the fear—which Sanders himself has expressed—that the president could be reelected.
All of the nearly two dozen people I spoke with at the rally said that they’re committed to voting for the Democratic nominee even if Bernie busts.
“I’m going to vote blue—I’m not anti–Elizabeth Warren; I’m pro–Bernie Sanders,” said 31-year-old Nicole Pena, who works in media. “It would be a begrudging choice.” Former Vice President Joe Biden was the only candidate rally-goers named as someone they’d have trouble supporting. (There’s no way Biden could pull off an event like Sanders’s rally—he was in New York yesterday, too, but at two small high-dollar fundraisers. Sanders, who gave a more energetic debate performance than Biden this month despite his recent hospitalization, has $33.7 million in the bank, compared with Biden’s $8.9 million.)
Sanders’s path to the nomination remains difficult to see at this point. He’d need a surge in public support beyond what any big rally is able to bring. Supporters I spoke with hope that he’ll keep pushing to the Democratic National Convention in the summer, in the hopes of bringing together a brokered win, or at least playing the kingmaker during the nomination process.
Jim Simko, a 33-year-old engineer who works on construction sites in the city, echoed a slightly twisted sentiment that’s become common among Sanders supporters following his heart attack: Just let him win, and even if he doesn’t make it through his term, the work will go on.
“He’ll live or he’ll die, but he’s pushed the Overton window,” said Simko, who voted for the libertarian Gary Johnson in 2016, though he said it was mostly to troll Hillary Clinton.
“You can’t kill ideas, and they can’t die either,” said his friend Joseph Olszewski, a 29-year-old electrician. “I’d like to see him live through one term at least.”
Or perhaps, Simko said, Sanders has already survived the premature aging that creeps up on so many presidents once they’re in office. “What color does hair turn after white?” he joked.