Bernie's choice

Even low voter turnout due to the coronavirus couldn’t save Bernie Sanders last night. Joe Biden is projected to win all three races by healthy margins and end up more than halfway to the delegate total that would assure him the nomination on the first round at the convention. Bernie didn’t even address his supporters after the drubbing he took, but he did release a statement indicating that he plans to stay in the race.

So should he? One analysis at the New York Times suggests that he has good reasons to do so, at least according to his supporters. But there are a couple of other factors to consider that might make it the wrong choice.

Under intense pressure to win nominating contests and already grappling with the effects of the coronavirus on the election, Mr. Sanders and his aides are now struggling to reconcile a sense of resignation and a desire to press on.

Yet even as his path to the nomination looks increasingly bleak, with Mr. Biden favored in three more primaries on Tuesday, some allies are publicly urging Mr. Sanders to remain in the race, eager for him to continue to pitch voters on a liberal agenda that he has promoted for decades.

“I want the senator to stay in,” Nina Turner, one of the campaign’s national co-chairs, said in an interview on Monday. “I think other voters have a right to have a choice. This is not a coronation. We know what happened last time in 2016 — it gave us Donald J. Trump.”

The only real argument in favor of Bernie staying in the race at this point is the one highlighted in the excerpt above. Sanders’ fans would like to see him continue pressing for a more radically leftist platform at the convention. You know the drill… Medicare for All, Green New Deal, wealth taxes and all the rest. But even that isn’t a terribly compelling reason. The only way he could apply any real leverage at the convention would be if he was bringing a sufficient number of delegates to endanger a clear Biden victory. Does anyone really think that’s going to happen? Biden and the rest of the party regulators will be able to thank him for his participation, pat him on the head and send him home.

As much as I’d like to see Sanders stay in just to continue beating up Joe Biden all through the spring and into the summer, his own advisers should be pointing out a couple of other things to him. First of all, the more he exposes Joe’s flaws heading into the general election, the weaker he makes him when it’s time to go toe-to-toe with Trump. That’s great news for some of us, but Bernie has been unwavering in his belief that Trump mustn’t be allowed to have a second term. In that sense, he begins to look a bit selfish and hypocritical if he hangs around.

Another factor to consider (as with everything these days) is the coronavirus pandemic. If Bernie were to drop out, there would be no necessity to hold the rest of the primary elections. The remaining 25 states could simply cancel them and let everyone stay home and avoid crowded polling places. That rationale offers Sanders the most dignified exit possible at this point. He could basically give a farewell speech saying that the fight is important, but the safety of the voters is paramount so he’s dropping out to help stop the spread of the contagion. He’d come off looking like a dedicated, caring public servant and less like, well… a loser.

In one sense, we’re back to the same point we were in 2016 when it finally became clear that Hillary Clinton would stagger over the finish line. Bernie is still telling his supporters that the DNC establishment has been trying to torpedo him from the beginning. (And he’s not wrong.) Last time, a measurable number of Bernie voters either stayed home or voted for Trump. That wasn’t the only factor that cost Hillary the election, but it definitely contributed. Will history repeat itself this November? I certainly hope so.