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Conventional Wisdom: The Democrats’ Peace Process Begins

This is our weekly politics newsletter, Conventional Wisdom. In this edition, we’re covering the final, not-that-bitter stages of the Democratic primary campaign. (Sign up here.)

Did you ever have that feeling in elementary school, when the whole cutting things out of construction paper and finding Pierre, South Dakota, on a map got to be too much, and you thought, “Will summer really ever get here?”

You may have felt a similar anxiety about June 7, the day of the primary in California, the most populous state and one of the last to vote: Would it ever really come, or would cable just loop endlessly, “Groundhog Day”-style, talking about “the GOP Establishment’s last stand”?

Last week, June 7 came and went, but without the drama that so many had expected on the Republican side. Instead, the Democrats became the story of California, and while Bernie Sanders has yet to admit defeat — in public, at least — a rocky peace process has begun within the party.

Hillary Clinton won the state on Tuesday night — the Associated Press called the primary race for her the night before — but Sanders didn’t make a concession speech. Instead, on Thursday, he met for more than an hour with President Obama and then made a short statement outside the White House in which he again didn’t concede but said, “I will work as hard as I can to make sure that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States.” Sanders reiterated that he would continue to campaign in Washington, D.C., which on Tuesday will cast the primary’s final votes.

But the Democratic Party would not wait for Sanders — a hot sec after meeting with him, Obama endorsed Clinton, followed in short order by Vice President Joe Biden and progressive hero and varsity Twitter user Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The only senator to endorse Sanders this campaign, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, had already said that it was time to work toward unity. Clinton released her first general election campaign ad a couple of days later. For a little while, it seemed for all the world that everyone was moving on but Sanders.

A picture is slowly emerging, however, of what his plans for the next month might be — a concession might not come soon, but Sanders appears to be acknowledging the reality of his loss in a way that only a savvy politician might — he is looking for leverage among the ruins. On Sunday at his Vermont home, Sanders said, “We are going to take our campaign to the convention with the full understanding that we are very good at arithmetic and that we know, you know, who has received the most votes up to now.” But Sanders also said he would be meeting with Clinton on Tuesday. After he had talked to her, Sanders said, “I will be able to make other decisions.”

Sanders is laying off half his staff, and you don’t have to be too good at arithmetic to know that doesn’t bode well for a long-term, healthy campaign. So what is he after? In a word, influence. He wants to make sure the platform has Bernie flavors in it and perhaps to push for some changes to the primary process. Mother Jones asked several progressive leaders what they thought Sanders should do with his newfound sway in the Democratic Party. Neil Sroka of Democracy for America had visions of a more empowered Sen. Sanders dancing through his head: “One of the most exciting things about Bernie Sanders right now is imagining him in the Democratically controlled Senate as chairman of the Budget Committee, with a grassroots army of 8 million plus people behind him. That’s something that we’ve never seen before.”

And what of the Republicans? Fallout from Trump’s racist comments about the judge presiding over the Trump University litigation continues. Last week, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who’s in danger of losing his seat, retracted his support of Trump, and House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s words the “textbook definition of a racist comment.” The speaker, however, maintained his support of Trump and said: “Hopefully this won’t continue. Hopefully the campaign will move in a better direction so it can be one we can all be proud of.”

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