In any other year but 2016, the biggest surprise story of this election would have been the insurgent campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. A self-described “democratic socialist,” Sanders started with as little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton as any of the other also-rans on the first Democratic debate stage.
But despite eschewing super PACs and traditional fundraising, Sanders took his show on the road, inspiring millions of young liberals to join his revolution. They liked his anti-Wall Street message, they liked his ultra-progressive platform. But most of all, they liked Bernie himself. His authenticity was the perfect antidote to the calculating robot snatching up superdelegates by the bucketful. By the time everyone had forgotten Jim Webb and Martin O’Malley, Sanders was beginning to look like a real threat to Hillary’s foregone conclusion.
Along the way, he built up a strong narrative against the former secretary of state. While avoiding hot-button issues like her email scandal and the Benghazi debacle, Sanders repeatedly accused her of being a shill for the big banks and demanded that she turn over the transcripts of speeches she had given to those banks – many of which she was paid six figures for delivering. He attacked her foreign policy prescriptions, her approach to trade agreements, and her status as a true progressive. After several months, his followers were not just excited about Bernie Sanders; they were dead-set against Hillary Clinton.
Ultimately, of course, the power of the Democratic establishment was too much for Sanders to overcome. This month, he finally conceded the race and endorsed Hillary for president. He encouraged his supporters to follow his lead. Many of them will.
But not all.
“She lied, she cheated, she stole our votes,” protesters shouted outside the Democratic National Convention this week.
More than 100 Sanders delegates walked out of the Wells Fargo arena on Tuesday after a roll call vote made Hillary the official Democratic nominee. They seemed to have little interest in the senator’s calls for unity.
In turn, Sanders expressed no interest in taking his movement elsewhere – to the Green Party, for instance.
“I don’t know the leadership of the Green Party, but I respect what they’re trying to do,” Sanders said at a breakfast Tuesday morning in Philadelphia. “I think right now, you’re going to end up having a choice. Either Hillary Clinton is going to become president, or Donald Trump.”
For the millennials who saw in Bernie a new brand of Democrat, that choice isn’t going to be easy.