(Bloomberg) — Bernie Sanders joined most of the rest of the Democratic Party on Tuesday by formally endorsing Hillary Clinton for president, a step toward unity motivated as much by fear of a Donald Trump presidency as enthusiasm for the presumptive nominee.
Four weeks after the last votes were cast in the nomination contest, and after multiple rounds of negotiations between their campaigns, Sanders and Clinton took the stage together Tuesday at a high school gym in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to end their primary battle.
Sanders said he was backing Clinton but not giving up on the ideals for which he campaigned. Clinton, in turn, voiced support for the economic priorities that animated the Vermont Senator’s campaign.
“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 at the Portsmouth High School gym, drawing chants of “Bernie” from a crowd of 2,000, plus 1,000 more in the school auditorium. “This campaign is about the needs of the American people and addressing the very serious crises that we face. And there is no doubt in my mind that, as we head into November, Hillary Clinton is far and away the best candidate to do that.”
In an attempt to soothe those of his supporters upset by the endorsement, Sanders acknowledged that “it is no secret that Hillary Clinton and I disagree on a number of issues. That’s what this campaign has been about. That’s what democracy is about.” From the bleachers, there were a few shouts of “never Hillary!”
Sanders’ long reluctance to endorse Clinton diminished his political leverage as the campaign drew to a close, especially as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a star of the Democratic progressive wing that was a core constituency for Sanders, delivered a full-throated endorsement of Clinton last month, following President Barack Obama, who remains broadly popular among Democrats.
A handful of groups aligned with Sanders already have moved behind Clinton. The Communications Workers of America and Democracy for America shifted their support to Clinton on Monday, as did the Progressive Action Political Action Committee, the political wing of the Sanders-founded Congressional Progressive Caucus. The activist group MoveOn backed Clinton after Tuesday’s rally ended.
Still, Sanders’ impact on the party has been undeniable, something Clinton acknowledged Tuesday. “Let’s open the doors to everyone who shares our progressive values,” she said. “You will always have a seat at the table when I am in the White House.”
Clinton last week proposed tuition-free public college for families making under $125,000, a major leap toward Sanders’ college-affordability plan, and she’s endorsed a single-payer health insurance option for people over the age of 55. The Democratic Party platform, finalized over the weekend in Orlando, Florida, also includes language in support of a financial transaction tax that reflect ideas for which Sanders fought.
Although the platform committee rejected amendments that would have called for the removal of the cap on taxable income to fund Social Security, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and condemned Israel’s “occupation and illegal settlements” of Palestine, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver called the final platform a success, and predicted Sanders supporters would reach a similar conclusion.
“He has energized and inspired a generation of young people,” Clinton said Tuesday. “So thank you, thank you Bernie for your endorsement but more than that thank you for your lifetime of fighting injustice.”
The show of unity is a marked contrast to the rancor still consuming Republicans. Scores of prominent Republicans have declined or refused to endorse Trump. Fully 85 percent of Democrats who backed Sanders during the primary say they’ll vote for Clinton in the general election and 72 percent of Democratic voters say the party will unite solidly behind their nominee, according to a Pew Research Center poll.