Bernie Sanders must set his legacy

Bernie Sanders must set his legacy
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Following a seismic shift in the Democratic primary, Bernie SandersBernie SandersIn defense of incrementalism: A call for radical realism Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality Trump will soon be out of office — but polarization isn't going anywhere MORE is on the verge of becoming a two time runner up in a contest that appeared, weeks ago, like his to lose. Following his troubling comments related to Fidel Castro and his communist leadership in Cuba, combined with a failure to expand his base, have forced Sanders and his supporters to deflect by railing against Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  New DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad MORE and what they believe to be a vast “conspiracy” to block the nomination of the senator from Vermont.

Attacks against what Sanders believes to be the “establishment” have done little to slow Biden in his meteoric rise from the ashes. A campaign that many labeled as dead has gone from playing catch up to building a formidable lead. After months of speculation over a potential contested convention, the African American supporters of Biden have revived his fledgling candidacy and helped catapult him to front runner status.

With months left until the convention in Milwaukee, the question is how Sanders and his supporters will respond to Biden getting the nomination. In 2016, Sanders dragged the process out, refusing to concede to Hillary Clinton and complicating her ability to unite the party over her eventual nomination. Her failure to win over the crucial progressive wing led some Sanders supporters to vote for Jill Stein or not vote at all. In an election that was won, or lost depending on your view, by close to 77,000 votes across three states, it is hard to argue that Sanders refusing to play team politics had no negative consequences on the outcome of the election.


Only Sanders and his supporters know how they will react to losing the nomination again, but if history has taught us anything, it is that there is no guarantee that his supporters will vote for the eventual nominee this fall. If Democrats have any hope of defeating Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE in November, they need the backing of Sanders and his legion of voters. But it is unclear that Sanders will give a strong endorsement of Biden if he locks down the nomination. It is much more likely that Sanders goes scorched earth on the party, pleasing his base but decreasing the likelihood that Democrats can win the White House and both chambers of Congress in the election.

Should Sanders decide to vigorously campaign for Biden and bring his supporters into the larger fold, they would be welcomed with open arms. Sanders would have the opportunity to cement his status as a kingmaker within the party. His ability to ignite his progressive base and rally them behind the Democratic nominee would mark an instant game changer.

Should Sanders take a different route and decide to repeat the strategy that contributed to the election of Trump, he would likely be considered no longer welcome among Democrats. Sanders has often been criticized for running as an independent for Senate, while simultaneously running as a Democrat for the White House. Those criticisms would only be amplified if Sanders fails to bow out of the race in a timely fashion or, even worse, fails to enthusiastically endorse Biden by the convention this summer.

While Sanders likely would not feel the effects of this disastrous political strategy, his disciples certainly would. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, and Ilhan Omar, all Sanders supporters, would undoubtedly suffer the consequences should he tank Biden this fall. The squad, as they are famously known as, has already caused headaches for moderates in Congress hoping to be reelected. If Biden loses to Trump, those progressives unwilling to unite with the party could be blamed.

A victory for Biden would decrease the pressure on progressives to fall in line, and could provide Ocasio Cortez with the wiggle room needed for a potential presidential run on her own one day. Her future aspirations, as well as the aspirations of many Americans, are reliant on Sanders putting the country first and his ego second. With any politician in Washington, that is a very risky bet. With Sanders, it is like a game of Russian roulette.

How Sanders wants to be remembered in history is in his hands. He can be remembered for championing a progressive movement that inspired a new generation of leaders, or he can be remembered for contributing to the election and reelection of the most damaging leader that our country has ever known. Only Sanders knows which path he will take, but make no mistake, Democrats are nervously watching how this chapter goes down.

Michael Starr Hopkins is the founding partner of Northern Starr Strategies. He served with the Democratic presidential campaigns for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Delaney. Follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.