PHILADELPHIA — The Bernie Sanders campaign considered demanding a private plane staffed and funded by the Democratic National Committee as part of negotiations with Hillary Clinton heading into this week’s convention, according to a Sanders memo obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The plane was to be used “for a series of fall rallies in battleground states,” according to the “Bernie 2016” memo, which was drafted in the days before Sanders’ sound defeat in the June 7 California primary, the contest that effectively ended his insurgent bid.
“This plane would be paid for by the DNC,” it reads.
The document reveals a campaign in its final days, considering whether to fight on with a “divisive critique” of Clinton, yet attuned to diminished influence inside the party.
Aides believed a tour of the battleground states would help keep Sanders center stage. The memo, titled “End Game,” also suggests that the Vermont senator’s campaign for Senate Democrats to “help deliver a majority and take credit for it” — one of several references throughout the four-page document showing the extent to which aides remained aware of opportunities to take “credit” amid decreasing “leverage.”
“As time goes on our leverage will diminish,” the memo reads.
“The more Sen. Sanders campaigns the more credit he can take for a Democratic victory and continue to keep his movement energized and in place.”
A copy of the memo was shared with BuzzFeed News after it was found on June 5 in a Los Angeles hotel, a DoubleTree where Sanders and his aides stayed that night. The document details the ways the campaign hoped to keep their candidate relevant and further his “political revolution” ahead of the convention kicking off here Monday.
Senior officials from the Sanders campaign declined to comment. The Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
The memo begins with a pressing question: Should Sanders concede defeat and endorse Clinton, appeasing the Democratic establishment? Or should he fight through the convention and “force a roll-call vote for the nomination,” reopening “a divisive critique of Clinton” and casting the party’s controversial superdelegate system in a negative light?
The campaign concedes that the latter scheme would require a robust plan “beyond the scope of this memo,” but acknowledges that regardless of a delegate strategy or convention floor operation, Sanders would face “two difficult challenges”: attacking Clinton “on viability and substance,” and engaging “in divisive committee and floor battle over rules and credentials.”
In the end, of course, Sanders chose not to fight on much longer after California, conceding the nomination and endorsing Clinton several weeks after being defeated in the state’s primary.
Many Sanders supporters wanted the senator to fight on until the bitter end, but the document suggests the campaign never devoted much effort to planning for a process like that.
“Leaders who have remained neutral will likely start to endorse Clinton. The AFL-CIO and Senator Warren being the most prominent,” the memo reads. (The major union and the progressive senator both held off on endorsing Clinton until the end of the primary.)
“Some Sanders supporters/endorsers will also begin to call for a concession and some may goes as far as moving their support to Clinton.”
The memo is devoted largely to plans for a Sanders concession.
On the list: holding sway over powerful convention committees, crafting a “progressive platform” for the party, and the question of whether to remove chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Sanders is cast in the memo repeatedly as a kind of youth-whisperer for the Democratic Party and for Clinton, who struggled in the primary to win over young progressive voters.
On July 12, Sanders formally ended his campaign and endorsed Clinton at a carefully staged rally in New Hampshire, designed to showcase unity between two at times embittered campaigns. Some die-hard supporters refused to go quietly, and security guards reportedly stepped in to take away “Still Bernie” signs. For the most part, though, the crowd stood and cheered as Sanders and Clinton put aside their differences and joined forces.
The event was far different than the one proposed in June.
The memo describes a unity rally to be held “on or before June 27” — a month before the start of the Democratic convention, and two weeks before the eventual New Hampshire event. The Sanders team suggested sites for the rally aimed at showcasing Sanders’ strengths with younger voters in college towns like Ann Arbor, Michigan; Bloomington, Indiana; or Madison, Wisconsin.
Even before the end of the California primary, the campaign was taken up with planning for what Sanders wanted to accomplish at the convention. Pro-Sanders forces succeeded this month in crafting a party platform that Sanders has praised as a victory. But the campaign was not able to unseat many of the convention leaders it wanted to remove, according to the memo, such as Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.
On Sunday, however, under fire from last week’s DNC email leak, longtime Sanders campaign enemy Wasserman Schultz stepped down as the party’s chair.
The rest of the memo is devoted to planning how to use Sanders in the fall campaign.
Sanders commanded large numbers of voters that Clinton strategists desperately want to turn out in the fall in the campaign against Donald Trump, such as active progressives and younger voters. In the “End Game” document, Sanders aides hoped to use his connection with those voters to leverage a special role on the surrogate circuit for Clinton and Democratic candidates.
The memo notes that a plane would allow Sanders to keep up a robust campaign schedule.
The arrangement would have allowed a lifestyle similar to the one he became accustomed to during the latter months of his candidacy, when a large private jet, motorcade, and retinue of security and traveling staff were a part of his everyday routine.
It would also be a break with Sanders’ pre-campaign persona, when he was best known by his supporters and those in Washington as the guy who flew the middle seat in coach.