Sanders risks his movement's clout by staying in the race against Biden too long

Sanders risks his movement\
Sanders risks his movement\'s clout by staying in the race against Biden too long  

By late May 2008, it was clear that Hillary Clinton couldn't catch Barack Obama and that he would be the Democratic nominee for president.

The calls for Clinton to exit the race were loud, but she ignored them. Asked why she didn't agree with "the party unity argument," she pointed out that "we all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California."

The remark triggered a torrent of condemnation. Kennedy, of course, had been murdered moments after declaring victory in the 1968 California primary, a grisly twist that had the effect of cementing the Democratic nomination for Hubert Humphrey.

Clinton insisted she'd been trying to make a more general point, not to raise the prospect of violence against her opponent. But that she'd reached for the '68 example at all spoke to her predicament. With no realistic mathematical path, her only remaining hope was some kind of extraordinary intervening development - which, of course, proved elusive.

A dozen years later, it's now Bernie Sanders who is facing a grim mathematical reality and suggestions that he close up shop - and who, so far, is also staying in the race.

Sanders has now lost 11 of the last 12 state contests to Joe Biden and trails in the delegate race by 313, according the NBC News delegate tracker. While he hasn't spoken as bluntly as Clinton did about how he might still win, Sanders has acknowledged that any path for him would be "narrow."

In reality, his predicament is even worse than Clinton's was.

That 313-delegate gap is almost four times wider than what Clinton faced in those final weeks of the '08 race. And given the party's proportional delegate allocation system, it wouldn't be nearly enough for Sanders to just start winning primaries.

He'd need to score landslides in giant, delegate-rich states. But it's Biden who's been doing that, winning Florida by 39 percentage points, Virginia by 30, Illinois by 23, North Carolina by 19 and Michigan by 17. Sanders, whose biggest delegate haul came from a comparatively modest seven-point victory in California, has shown no ability to compete with that.

Moreover, it's not even clear Sanders can win any of the remaining states by even a small margin. Take Wisconsin, where he rolled to a 14-point win over Clinton in 2016. But now a poll has Biden crushing Sanders there, 62-34 percent. It's the continuation of the pattern seen in just about every primary in March, with Sanders running far below his '16 levels of support in state after state.

Compounding all of this is the changed nature of the Democratic race, and campaign politics in general.

With the coronavirus pandemic upending American life, most states that haven't yet voted have now moved their primaries to June. And while the outbreak certainly qualifies as an extraordinary development, it's not one that has shaken Democratic voters' confidence in Biden in any apparent way. Polls still show him more than 20 points ahead of Sanders nationally. It's an open question whether Democrats will have much appetite for an intraparty battle in the coming months.

And so Sanders is left in need of…well, something that would utterly reorder the thinking of Democratic voters at a very late date and amidst an unprecedented disease outbreak. What could that possibly be? You can try to devise your own scenario. But suffice it to say, he'd be as hard-pressed as Clinton was in 2008 to spell it out in detail.

Otherwise, Sanders is on course to finish out the primary season - whenever it actually ends - hundreds of delegates and millions of popular votes behind Biden. Maybe that's an acceptable outcome for him. He would still collect many more delegates, thanks to those proportional allocation rules and would go into the convention - if there is a convention (Biden suggested on Sunday it should be a "virtual" convention - with a large bloc of adherents. Perhaps he would see this as the best means of shaping the platform or influencing Biden's vice presidential selection.

But there is a risk for Sanders, too.

Four years ago, he was also too far behind in delegates to overtake Clinton and win the nomination. But he continued to run competitively through the end of the primary season, winning states into June. And each victory, or even near-miss, amounted to a show of strength for Sanders, a reminder that a big chunk of the Democratic Party wasn't sold on Clinton.

But what if, this time around, he sticks it out and there are no more primary wins, or even near-misses? What if it's just one landslide defeat after another?

If the late stage of the '16 primary season enhanced his clout, would finishing up now with a string of lopsided losses actually diminish Sanders and his movement? When he says he's "assessing" his campaign, this may the kind of dilemma Sanders is hinting it.


More Related News

Biden Visits George Floyd Protest Site, Urges Americans To Turn
Biden Visits George Floyd Protest Site, Urges Americans To Turn 'Anguish Into Purpose'

"We are a nation in pain, but we must not allow this pain to destroy us," said the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

Black Americans Have a Message for Democrats: Not Being Trump Is Not Enough
Black Americans Have a Message for Democrats: Not Being Trump Is Not Enough

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- In an on-camera address after a week of destructive protests, former Vice President Joe Biden pleaded with his audience to imagine life for black people in America. Imagine, he said, "if every time your husband or son, wife or daughter left the house, you feared for their safety." Imagine the police called on you for sitting in Starbucks."The anger and frustration and the exhaustion, it's undeniable," he said.Exhaustion. For many black Americans across the country, what a year this has been. The coronavirus pandemic has continued to disproportionately kill black people, and a spate of high profile killings in recent months in Georgia, Kentucky and Minnesota, the latter...

Letters to the Editor: Stacey Abrams lost in Georgia, but she could lift Biden as his VP.
Letters to the Editor: Stacey Abrams lost in Georgia, but she could lift Biden as his VP.

Even with alleged voter suppression, Stacey Abrams came very close to winning in Georgia. She would make a great VP pick for Biden.

Outrage over George Floyd
Outrage over George Floyd's death could tip fortunes in Joe Biden's VP search

Some potential running mates have seen their fortunes appear to rise or fall in the midst of the protests over police treatment of African Americans.

George Floyd
George Floyd's Brother: Trump Wouldn't Even Let Me Talk in Rushed Call

The brother of George Floyd said Saturday that he spoke to President Donald Trump but the conversation was so quick that he "he didn't give me the opportunity to even speak.""It was hard, I was trying to talk to him, but he just kept pushing me off like 'I don't want to hear what you are talking about,"' Philonise Floyd told MSNBC's Al Sharpton."I just told him I want justice. I said that I can't believe that they committed a modern-day lynching in broad daylight." Floyd said he also spoke to Joe Biden and poured out his heart to the Democratic presidential candidate. "I never begged for anything before," Floyd told Sharpton. "I asked the vice president if he could get justice for my...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Asia