Bernie Sanders is not going gentle into that good night.
Although polls show him trailing Hillary Clinton by an average of 12 percentage points in Tuesday's New York Democratic primary, Sanders made no concessions and sounded no conciliatory notes in a fiery speech on Sunday to a meadow full of cheering fans in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
Most political analysts say the Vermont senator will have virtually no chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination if Clinton defeats him in New York. But as the springtime sun haloed his snowy 'do, Sanders twice shouted in a scratchy voice that he is going to win the nomination. He also predicted he will “trump” the Republican candidate in the November general election.
That assertion echoed the theme of a new Clinton TV ad that attacks Donald Trump and foresees her triumphant entry into the White House. New York's former U.S. senator is now presenting herself as the presumptive Democratic nominee, and she is thereby signaling that the Sanders show is over.
To the 28,000 mostly young and white fans gathered in Prospect Park, however, the Bern still scorches. They greeted Sanders as though he were a rock star — a status that the campaign stokes by blasting David Bowie's “Starman” at the conclusion of his rallies.
There was also a revival-tent, call-and-response moment during Sunday's festive affair. After noting that his campaign has attracted 7 million individual donations — “the most of any campaign in the history of the United States of America” — Sanders asked the assembly, “Anybody here know what our average campaign contribution is?” In the ensuing cacophony, it was hard to tell how many believers bellowed the correct response of $27. But Sanders then stated it, setting off another round of hosannas.
Many of his supporters are familiar by now with the full litany of issues Sanders has recited from New Hampshire in February, to Michigan in March, to New York in April. They were still liking what they were hearing on Sunday, though, as Sanders cataloged a dozen “differences between Secretary Clinton and myself.”
These covered the full range of Democratic constituencies: African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, LGBT identifiers, environmentalists, antiwar activists, seniors and women. One of Sanders' best lines of the day surely reminded some in the throng of his blow-off of Clinton's email kerfuffle in the first Democratic debate six months ago. Noting that women in the U.S. earn an average of 79 cents for men's $1, Sanders shouted, “They want the whole damn dollar — and they're right!”
He even ventured onto terrain that Clinton has staked out as entirely her own: gun control.
Telling the crowd that he had just visited a public housing project in Brooklyn's emphatically un-gentrified Brownsville section, Sanders lamented the lack of opportunities for young African Americans and proclaimed, “It's our job to give kids jobs, not guns.”
He came at Clinton again and again, harshing her Wall Street mellow and ridiculing her contorted stand on the secret speeches she gave to one-percenters at Goldman Sachs. That investment bank has been described by pro-Sanders Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as a giant “vampire squid.”
“Now, if you give a speech for $225,000, it must be a pretty damn good speech,” the Brooklyn native said as he transitioned into tummler mode. “Must be a brilliant and insightful speech analyzing all of the world's problems. Must be a speech written in Shakespearean prose. And that is why I believe Secretary Clinton should share that speech with all of us.”
Once reluctant to make personalized political pitches, Sanders now routinely mentions his wife, Jane, in stump speeches. He did so on Sunday, noting that he has been married to her for 27 years and that they have “four kids and seven beautiful grandchildren.”
He then segued into an attack on GOP opponents of same-sex marriage. “We believe in family values,” Sanders said, “but those family values are a little bit different from Republican values.”
He's adept at hitting notes that resonate especially well with specific audiences. To the Brooklyn hipsters, Sanders emphasized his support for legalizing marijuana and then drew a compelling comparison. “An African American kid in Brooklyn” busted with a joint will henceforth have a criminal record that will make it even harder to get a job, Sanders said, adding that “Wall Street criminals” have no such obstacles to overcome.
For all his bombast in Brooklyn, Sanders refrained from predicting victory in Tuesday's polling. He noted only that his campaign does best when large numbers of voters turn out for primaries and caucuses.
“Let's have a record-breaking turnout on Tuesday,” he urged the crowd. “New York State, help lead the way into the political revolution!”
It didn't sound like a eulogy for a history-making campaign.