Sarah Silverman went off script when she told the Bernie or Bust delegates that they were “being ridiculous” for protesting on the DNC floor. Clinton supporters roared in approval, as Silverman articulated what many of them have been feeling for months. As @joshgad tweeted: “Thank you @SarahKSilverman for saying it like it is. Bernie supporters on the floor should be embarrassed.” A quick scan of social media confirmed this was a common viewpoint of many Democrats. I saw Bernie holdouts referred to as “petulant children,” “#BernieBrats,” and perhaps the most condescending label of all “Bros.”
I’m a Sanders supporter who will be voting for Clinton this November. But Clinton supporters are not making it any easier for me or any other Sanders supporter to do so.
Sanders supporters can largely be split into two groups, best illustrated by the ice cream titans of Vermont, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. “Ben Berners” refuse to vote for Clinton. As Cohen explained back in June, “Maybe something’s going to happen in the future, but right now I could not pull the trigger for Hillary.” By contrast, “Jerry Berners” are willing to vote for Clinton. “I’m completely committed to defeating Donald Trump… If Hillary is the [Democratic] nominee, I’m going to vote for her,” Greenfield explained. Within those two groups, are people with various strengths of conviction about their respective positions. Clinton supporters would be wise to keep that in mind.
Speaking derisively to people you disagree with is not only disrespectful but also a surefire way to back them into their corner. Even if you think they are “being ridiculous,” telling them so will not win them over. Don’t believe me? Try telling your partner to “fall in line” the next time you have an argument.
People tend to make decisions emotionally and only then evaluate evidence. The crying faces of Sanders supporters last night in Philly only confirm that for the Sanders holdouts, emotions are running high and as a fellow Sanders supporter, I have a lot of empathy for them. If Clinton supporters want unity around their candidate, their best bet is to give these holdouts the space to express their opposition now and not to ridicule them for it.
So what can Clinton supporters do? Take a page out of the playbook of some of the Democratic party’s leadership. Donna Brazil acknowledged a major grievance of Sanders supporters by issuing a public apology to Bernie Sanders and his supporters for the DNC emails that showed clear party preference for Clinton. Hillary already made a direct appeal to Sanders supporters by committing to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Michelle Obama spoke powerfully of our shared higher ideals. And after all of that was done, Bernie Sanders himself stood up and reframed the argument for why he is supporting Clinton by very clearly laying out what is at stake in this election.
True, for some ‘Bernie or Bust’ voters none of those strategies will work to change their minds. But in truth, Clinton supporters shouldn’t get so worked up over them because those Sanders supporters are in the minority. Polls indicate that despite all the concern over Sanders holdouts, the vast majority of Sanders supporter will vote for Clinton. Pew found that of those who are categorized as strong Sanders supporters, 90 percent said they would be voting for Clinton in November and of those who were not strong Sanders supporters, 88 percent said they would vote for Clinton. So rather than spending time and energy yelling down Sanders holdouts and possibly alienating Sanders holdouts at home watching, a better strategy is to look to the next few months and speak to the vast majority of Sanders supporters with empathy and respect. Not only will that increase the likelihood of “Jerry Berners” coming out to the polls for Clinton, but also because there’s a virtuous cycle to conversion: The more people that try to convince a person of a position, the more likely they are to change their view. And if that rising chorus is coming from within the Sanders supporter community, the more effective it will be.