John Wagner and Dan Balz at the Washington Post ask an uncomfortable question this week, but it’s one which most of the Democratic Party is going to have to come to terms with very soon. The issue they bring up has everything to do with the fact that the armies of adoring fans that Bernie Sanders has drawn to rallies resembling small-scale Beatles concerts have brought him close to the nomination. But the fact remains that he’s still coming up short. After Tuesday’s battle on his home turf went sour, Bernie simply isn’t going to win enough delegates outright to seize his new party’s nomination and the superdelegates just don’t like him. And yet he persists in his increasingly quixotic quest, which brings us to the question of the day:
What does Bernie Sanders want?
Hillary Clinton’s victory in the New York primary Tuesday has brought Sen. Bernie Sanders one step closer to a series of difficult decisions that can be summed up in one simple question: What does Bernie want?
How he answers that question will have a direct bearing on how united Democrats will be heading into the fall campaign — and whether Sanders will be able to leverage his success this year into lasting power and influence…
But as Clinton extends her lead in pledged delegates, Sanders must now confront the reality that he has almost no chance of becoming the Democratic nominee. Instead he must decide what he will do with what he has built — starting with how he conducts his campaign over the next two months, how he navigates the party’s national convention in July, what role he plays in the general election and, perhaps most importantly, what happens after the November results have been tallied.
My assessment might be a bit more brutal than that of Wagner and Balz, but I think it boils down to a few simple possibilities. The first and most obvious one is that what Bernie wants is exactly what he’s been saying all along. He wants to be the Democratic nominee and, eventually, the President. It’s no sure thing that he has any faithful advisers and friends in his inner circle who are willing to read him the obituary for his now zombified campaign. His staffers will be unemployed if the campaign folds and his nearest and dearest may still believe in unicorns and rainbows to a sufficient degree as to think that it will all still somehow come together. But while Bernie is many things, I don’t think he’s stupid. He won’t speak the words, but he’s got to know that he’s failed. So what else could it be?
In the old days, failing candidates with sufficient power would negotiate for some bauble like a prime speaking slot at the convention in Philadelphia. But what would Bernie say that he hasn’t already said a thousand times on the campaign trail? People would applaud politely (providing he was willing to endorse Hillary and ask his followers to vote for her) but then the spotlight would shut off and it would be Hillary’s show. That doesn’t sound like what he’s after.
Another popular demand for such candidates is a prime spot in the new administration. Veep? A cabinet position? He’s too old and too white for the former. It’s not as if he’s positioning himself for a run in 2024. (He’ll be well into his 80s by then.) And what cabinet position would offer him the platform he now enjoys?
I suppose it could be a promise from Hillary that she would prioritize and pursue some favored piece of legislation from his agenda, but what does that get him? Hillary has already promised everything to everyone by this point, knowing full well that most of it is vaporware. That’s not much of a trade.
No, if I had to guess, I’d say that Bernie is even more crafty than we’ve given him credit for. He may want to fight this thing out until the last dog is hung just to keep his name front and center for the delegates and their voter base. Why? Because he still suspects that the FBI may disqualify Clinton with a set of steel bracelets, and at that point he might be the only alternative which the voters would accept.
That’s probably a miscalculation on his part because I still think they could send an invitation to Joe Biden if Hillary collapses and the entire party would be Ready For Joe in a New York minute. But this is likely Bernie’s last hurrah and he he may as well shoot for the stars.