The straight-line thinking on the matter is simple: Bernie Sanders got walloped again on Tuesday evening. His delegate deficit increased by hundreds, even with Ohio canceling its primary. He’s looking less likely to win the Democratic presidential nomination with each passing contest. So it’s time for him to just drop out, right?
Not so fast. There are at least three good reasons for Bernie to stick around.
In With A Chance?
Just as Joe Biden, the last option available to a desperate party elite, was the recipient of yet another burst of dumb luck – having the Coronavirus justification to avoid public appearances which would inevitably lead to more discussion of his cognitive deficits – so can Bernie benefit from this pause in the action. Why? To put it bluntly, now that the party establishment has run off every other candidate unacceptable to them, Bernie will remain as the only live option for Democratic voters if they wake up one day and realize they are on the verge of handing their biggest prize to a man whose best days are, shall we say, well behind him.
But the reasons for Bernie to remain in the race are not limited to the elites’ riverboat gamble – and that’s what it is – of putting forward a candidate who is at risk of being ridiculed far and wide as confused at best, unequal to the task at worst.
He may be well behind, but Bernie has accumulated almost 900 delegates, approaching half the number needed for the nomination. This represents a critical mass of voters, and importantly, an activist group distinct from the more conventional Democrats who have followed the party’s instructions to support the former vice president. This cache of delegates gives a candidate power to shape the party convention, influence the platform, and leverage to cash in on a prime-time oratorical opportunity.
Sanders should hardly be tempted to follow the party’s edict anointing Biden, given that the elites cut Bernie off at the knees four years ago – and that was with just one other candidate, Hillary Clinton – and have cast a far wider net this year in convincing multiple so-called “moderate” hopefuls to bow to the will of the party power brokers and withdraw from the race.
Turning Back the Clock
But even beyond that, Bernie offers an entirely different worldview from Biden, one which asks the right questions even as it offers chilling answers. At issue is the status quo, its GOP iteration sliced apart by Trump, but its Democratic half left squirming like a snake cut in two. As with Trump, Bernie has caught the fever of an American electorate fed up with the establishment of both parties, and who are prepared to vote with their feet. All the energy of 2016 was with Trump and Bernie and their truly populist, albeit dramatically conflicting, agendas. And while the energy surrounding the Sanders campaign in 2020 is less palpable, it has far exceeded the dynamism, or lack thereof, of every other candidate.
What Joe Biden promises is simply to rewind a worn tape back to the days before November 8, 2016. This promise of a continuation or return to the world of 11/7/16 has, to put it mildly, failed to excite voters in the last three presidential primary and election cycles, and has the capacity to attract only those voters who are so disgusted by Trump’s personality that they will dismiss his record as irrelevant.
But then, of course, there is the COVID-19 crisis. What if it’s worse than expected? What if the most pessimistic projections come true, the crisis has spiraled into the summer, and as November approaches, Trump’s re-election is truly thrown open to question? Could the Democrats put forward Joe Biden as the guy who could solve an unprecedented crisis which overwhelmed Trump? Really?
Bernie certainly has plenty of money to stay in the race, having raised some 75 million dollars, and with more than 30 million dollars cash on hand at last look. And remember that very little of this will likely be spent over these next weeks as the nation hits the pause button and copes with concerns far more pressing than an election almost eight months away.
Nothing to Lose, All to Gain
In the end, the old curmudgeon has nothing to lose and a fair amount to gain by simply refusing to withdraw. He has undoubtedly stoked not just a candidacy, but a movement. And no matter how bankrupt his ideology, should he pack it in because the elites say he should? Their contempt for him is rivaled only by his for them, and he should care not one whit whether his continued presence remains a thorn in their side. This will be his last race for the highest office in the land, and he holds a safe Senate seat. What is the downside of carrying on?
The outlook may be grim for Bernie, but there is simply no reason for him to depart the race and abandon his famously passionate supporters at this time. The Vermont senator dropping out is not like Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, or Liz Warren leaving the race. Bernie represents a unique point of view within his party. If the competing view was coherent, there might be a solid reason for his departure. But when the only other voice is Joe Biden, with his confused agenda designed to make him appear progressive and moderate at the same time, there is reason to stay in the fight.
Read more from Tim Donner.