Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders knows that 2020 is his last shot at the White House. Going into Super Tuesday on March 3, his prospects seemed pretty good until the re-energized Biden campaign eclipsed him. Then, a week later, Sanders was on the receiving end of another drubbing as Biden racked up wins in four of six states to extend his lead in the delegate count to somewhere around 150. As vocal as they are on social media and at Bernie 2020 rallies, the senator’s young socialists failed to show up at the polls, and now, without a massive surge in support, Sanders’ presidential prospects are looking as bleak as a Venezuelan grocery store.
Though 26 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have still to hold primaries or caucuses, Sanders has a mountain to climb. He will need to win close to 60% of the remaining pledged delegates to amass the 1,991 needed to claim the nomination outright. His main rival needs about half of those as yet unallocated delegates.
Sanders Fights On, For Now
At a press conference on March 12, though, Sanders made it clear that he remains in the race. He began with a blistering – if entirely predictable – attack on President Trump before firing off a series of challenges to Biden; setting the stage, it seemed, for the next primary debate in Phoenix, AZ on March 15. Interestingly, host CNN has canceled the live audience for the debate, citing precautions against the Covid-19 coronavirus.
It is flu season, and flu will almost certainly kill more Americans than the Coronavirus. CDC estimates put the flu-rated death toll for 2019-2020 at anywhere between 20,000 and 52,000. It is reasonable, then, to question whether CNN’s decision is really about the virus or about shielding an increasingly gaffe-prone Biden from humiliating himself in front of a live audience.
Protecting Biden From Himself
Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) went even further than the news network, suggesting that the entire primary process be shut down and the debates canceled. Rep. Clyburn wasn’t talking about public health, though: having endorsed the former vice president, the congressman claimed on March 10 that the race for his party’s nomination has effectively been decided:
“I think when the night is over, Joe Biden will be the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and quite frankly, if the night ends the way it has begun, I think it is time for us to shut this primary down. It is time for us to cancel the rest of these debates because you don’t do anything but get yourself in trouble if you continue in this contest when it’s obvious that the numbers will not shake out for you.”
Having circled the wagons around Biden, it does appear that an awful lot of Democrats want an end to this primary contest as quickly as possible. That may be less about shutting Sanders out and more about shutting Biden up.
With nothing more than a slim chance – at this point – of winning the nomination, Sanders achieves little by staying in the race, other than keeping the pressure on Biden. The latter is showing an increasing inability to handle that pressure, so it is hardly surprising that others in the party are only too eager to wrap up this contest and take a deep breath before the former V.P. goes up against Trump.
Bernie’s legacy will be that he shoved the Democratic Party far to the left, but his performance in the primaries proves that most of those who vote Democrat are not ready for that level of radicalism. At some point – perhaps within the next week, even – he may bow out, gracefully or not, or he may fight on just to remain relevant and to keep his socialist cause alive. For Sanders, this will be a momentous decision because once he quits the nomination race, he steps out of the national spotlight for the last time.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.