PHILADELPHIA – Even at the end, when all the votes are cast and clear winner emerges, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders may end up at an impasse – both staring at each other across a divide and waiting for the other to move first.
That unsettling reality for Democrats was made clear in back-to-back appearances during MSNBC town halls Monday night, when both candidates said it was incumbent on the other – and not them -- to bring the party back together. Moreover, both refused to offer any concessions to get there.
Appearing with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Clinton extended an olive branch to Sanders’ supporters – but expressed little willingness to give anything more than that.
"Certainly we share a lot of the same goals,” Clinton said. “I think we have much more in common and I want to unify the party.”
But Clinton expressed that she will be the ultimate winner -- not Sanders -- and left little doubt that she will set the terms of surrender. Asked what she might concede to bring Sanders supporters on board, Clinton suggested nothing.
“I am ahead and let's start from that premise when we talk about what happens next, OK?” she said when asked what concessions she was willing to make to Sanders. “I am winning. And I’m winning because of what I stand for and what I’ve done and what my ideals are.”
She compared the situation to 2008, when she acknowledged that then-Senator Obama beat her fair and square and worked hard to bring her supporters on board with the eventual Democratic nominee.
“I did not put down conditions. I did not say, you know what, if Senator Obama does X, Y and Z, I will support Senator Obama,” she said. ”I spent an enormous amount of time convincing my supporters to support Senator Obama.”
By the end of the primary, Clinton said 40 percent of her supporters told pollsters they would not vote for Obama in the general. But she worked hard to sway them, and even made the procedural move to officially nominate him and the Democratic National Convention. She eventually got the vast majority of them on board in November.
“That is what I think one does," Clinton added. "That is certainly what I did and I hope that we will see the same this year."
Clinton also suggested – though stopped short of definitely promising – that she will fill half of her cabinet appointments with women, like new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently did, should she win the White House. “I’ll have a cabinet that looks like America, and 50 percent of America is women,” she said.
Sanders, appearing with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, gave zero indication he was ready to fall in line and be a good solider for Clinton. Winning over his supporters is her job, he said.
“It is incumbent upon her to tell millions of people who right now do not believe in establishment politics or establishment economics, who have serious misgivings about a candidate who has received millions of dollars from Wall Street and other special interests," he said. "She has got to go out to you."
Sanders said he would do “everything in my power to make sure that no Republican gets into the White House,” but apparently he doesn't see unifying the party as paramount to that goal.
“This campaign is about taking on the entire establishment. The Democratic establishment, the financial establishment, and in Clinton’s campaign, the most powerful political organization in the United States of America,” Sanders said.
He stated all this while acknowledging that it will be “very hard for us to win” if he ends up with fewer pledged delegates by the time the final votes are tallied in the District of Columbia on June 14 – which is now mathematically a near-certainty.
Still, Sanders held out hope that parts of the very Democratic establishment his campaign is aimed at destroying will bail him out at the end, even if Clinton has more votes and delegates.
“Hundreds and hundreds of superdelegates, parts of the Democratic establishment, voted for Hillary Clinton or chose to come onboard her campaign before I even announced my candidacy. And those people have a right rethink the decision that they made,” he said.
Every primary gets nasty, and there is still more than a month to go before voting concludes in the Democratic Primary. At this point in 2008, Clinton was still raising some her most inflammatory questions about Obama.
In fact, in the very same building that Clinton and Sanders met Monday – The National Constitution Center – Clinton attacked Obama on his connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and Luis Farrakhan in an debate on April 16.
“It is clear that, as leaders, we have a choice who we associate with and who we apparently give some kind of seal of approval to,” Clinton said of Obama’s ties to the controversial figures. “These are problems. And they raise questions in people's minds.”
But Clinton and Obama still came together in the symbolically chosen town of Unity, New Hampshire in late June to rally together.
A similar finish to the 2016 primary seems increasingly unlikely.