After all, Bernie voted against Don't Ask Don't Tell in the 1990s. He supported civil unions. Hillary, on the other hand, supported the Defense of Marriage Act until the mid 2000s, when she had a change of heart. Better late than never, I guess.
So why did HRC like Hillary and not Bernie? Because the purpose of their endorsement isn't to help Hillary win. It's an investment in future favors.
Bernie's campaign is understandably a little miffed. "It’s understandable and consistent with the establishment organizations voting for the establishment candidate, but it’s an endorsement that cannot possibly be based on the facts and the record," said unhappy spokesman Michael Briggs.
Bernie used the same language on Rachel Maddow: "We’re taking on not only Wall Street and the economic establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment," he said.
It was a bit of a risky move to call the HRC "establishment." Of course, the Human Rights Campaign is as well-connected in DC as any special interest group could hope to be. But, of course, anyone would bristle at that description, and antagonizing a wasp's nest will only make them mad.
Hillary was only too happy to pounce on Sanders.
I mean, I guess it all depends on what your definition of "establishment" is. HRC had gross receipts of $40 million in 2014. Their tax return even describes them as "AMERICA'S LARGEST CIVIL RIGHTS ORGANIZATION WORKING TO ACHIEVE LGBT EQUALITY." Is that establishment, or just being effective?
HRC President Chad Griffin—who, full disclosure, I once worked for, and interviewed and wrote about in my book that you should buy—is a political genius. He was the youngest staffer to ever work in the White House. He was also a top bundler for the Obama campaign, and a guest at the State of the Union last week. President Obama and Vice President Biden have taken turns speaking at HRC's National Dinners. Chad's been a dinner guest of the Obamas.
So maybe "establishment" isn't the right way to describe a bunch of people fighting for what amounts to gay liberation. And it was definitely dumb to say that Bernie's "taking on" a group participating in significant advancements in LGBT civil rights. But the Human Rights Campaign isn't a bunch of dreamy anti-establishment radicals—they're political pros who know what they're doing and who to talk to. They didn't get there by accident. They got there the same way as everyone else with power in Washington did: by delivering money and votes to candidates who win elections.
HRC isn't pulling strings on the level of Exxon or the National Pork Producers Council. But they're also far from the wild bunch of queer counterculture hippies who raided marriage counters in the '70s and staged die-ins in the '80s.
So did Bernie ever really have a chance at earning their endorsement? Sure. It could have gone differently. If only he could have persuaded HRC that they might someday want him to owe them a favor.