Once An Insurgent Candidate, Howard Dean Now Supports Hillary Clinton
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
A contentious primary race, a party divided - for a long time, those were the kinds of things being said about the Republican presidential race. Now it's where the Democratic race stands, even as Hillary Clinton is set to clinch the nomination after the next big set of primaries June 7.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to turn to a person who has a unique point of view of this election - Howard Dean. He was once an insurgent Democratic presidential candidate. His supporters were so intense, they were called Deaniacs. From 2005 to 2009, he led the party as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Now he's backing Hillary Clinton. And we'll hear from Bernie Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, tomorrow.
But earlier this afternoon, I started my conversation with Howard Dean by asking about the Nevada Democratic Party convention last weekend. And I asked him to respond to Sanders' supporters who say their candidate hasn't been treated fairly.
HOWARD DEAN: Bernie Sanders has gotten about 2 million votes or a million and a half votes - less than Hillary Clinton has. By any measure of how you measure, this process is not unfair. So you've got to stop with that. And I had - look, I had the same issue. I was furious. I was the front-runner after about six months on the campaign trail, and I had - four out of the five candidates who were running against me were actually colluding to take me down. Well, that's - you know, that's the way politics is. It's a tough sport.
You know, Al Gore was one that set me straight. I was ranting and raving. Why should I be a Democrat after the way I've been treated? And he said, look, this is not about you. Its about the country. And I actually think Bernie knows that in his heart of hearts. He's worked incredibly hard. He's had an amazingly successful campaign. He's not going to win, and he knows it, so the question is - what can he do?
CORNISH: My next question is about what can be done for Clinton supporters such as yourself because unlike Clinton with Barack Obama, you know, Senator Sanders is not a part of the party apparatus, right? I mean, what can you even offer him that would convince him he should step aside if he feels like he has - if he should go forward?
DEAN: Well, first of all, I don't think he has to step aside. I think he's more than earned the right to go to the convention, to give a speech about the things he thinks that are important. But I also think he's got to support the nominee, and I think he will. He has said that he's not going to do anything to help Donald Trump become president of the United States. I absolutely believe that. It's consistent with him running as a Democrat. I mean, he has publicly said he's not a Democrat. I'm glad he chose to run as a Democrat because if he was running as an independent, we wouldn't win.
CORNISH: As you talked about your campaign, obviously, you have experience with people who think they're part of a movement. And when you look at what's going on now, how does a nominee like Hillary Clinton - if she becomes the nominee - not lose these voters, right? These demographics that he's won are voters that were key to the Obama coalition and key to the Obama wins.
DEAN: Well, I actually think you've already seen a tremendous influence of these voters on the nominee. When I ran, I was the only major person who was running who was against the war. By the time I was out of the race, every Democratic candidate had renounced their own position on the war - who had voted for it. So Bernie's already had the effect of pulling the noose tight around the misbehavior of Wall Street, asking for real reforms, demanding health care changes. That's part now of the Democratic Party fabric, and that wouldn't have happened if Bernie hadn't won, if he hadn't gotten those millions of votes.
CORNISH: We mentioned earlier you're a backer of Hillary Clinton. And I have to admit the generosity of your language now sounds as though it's a little bit of an olive branch - not one that Sanders is extending to her. He's still using pretty tough language.
DEAN: He's going to have to get through that. Or he can do this if he wants to do the tough stuff all the way to the end, but if he does, it could very well cost us the presidency and make Donald Trump the president. And he doesn't want to do that. I know - I've known this guy for 40 years. At the end of the day, he is going to stand up for the working people he believes in. And he knows that working people in this country are going to be a whole lot better off under Hillary Clinton than they will under Donald Trump.
CORNISH: So does this - what you've seen from him - line up with his tone and approach over the years?
DEAN: Eventually, yes, but he is a incredibly competitive human being, and I've seen him lose races before. He's - it's very hard for him to do gracefully. And that's what he's struggling with right now. At the end of the day, I'm betting the Bernie Sanders I know is graceful, but it's very hard. He's come very close to not only winning the nomination, but possibly being president of the United States, so I can understand the struggle he's going through.
CORNISH: A few months ago, people assumed it was going to be the Republican convention that would be contested. Now that question's being talked about when it comes to Democrats. How surprised are you to be here?
DEAN: I'm not surprised. As soon as he got in, I called up Hillary's folks and said, you better take this guy seriously because he knows what he's doing. He's a great politician. The convention is not going to be contested. What the convention may do is turn into a test of wills. I think that's unnecessary. I can - think we can work out enough of a bunch of reasonable stuff, both on process and on platform, that there shouldn't be a test of wills at the convention.
CORNISH: Howard Dean, thank you so much for speaking with us.
DEAN: Thanks for having me on.
CORNISH: Howard Dean, former Vermont governor, former DNC chair and former presidential candidate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.