St. Paddy's primaries were Bernie's Waterloo

St. Paddy's primaries were Bernie's Waterloo
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As Americans go into isolation to slow the spread of coronavirus, we are sadly lacking in diversions. No March Madness, spring baseball or Premier League. No bars, restaurants or St. Patrick’s Day revels.

Even the long-running Democratic nomination battle seems to be shutting down. Continuing his electoral hot streak, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to meet with 6 GOP senators next week Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit On The Money: Five takeaways on a surprisingly poor jobs report | GOP targets jobless aid after lackluster April gain MORE decisively swept all three Democratic primaries yesterday in Florida, Illinois and Arizona.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersGOP is consumed by Trump conspiracy theories Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders Sanders on Cheney drama: GOP is an 'anti-democratic cult' MORE (I-Vt.), nurturing wan hopes of a political rebound, instead met his Waterloo in the St. Paddy’s Day primaries. He may stay in the race and scrounge delegates here and there, but his high-octane insurgency has run out of road.


Biden crushed Sanders by 39 points in the proverbial swing state of Florida, winning every county in the state.  He took deep blue Illinois – a state Sanders had come close to winning in 2016 – by 23 points. The outcome in Arizona, which also will be fiercely contested in November, was closer, but Biden still won by double digits.

Yesterday’s victories pushed Biden past the halfway mark to the nomination, padding his delegate count to 1,147 (the magic number is 1991). And he’s built what looks like an insurmountable lead of 286 delegates over Sanders.

But what really stands out is the breadth of Biden’s support. In Florida and Illinois, for example, he won nearly every category of voter: Men and women, liberals and moderates, those with and without college degrees and the married and unmarried. For the first time, Biden even edged Sanders among “very liberal voters” in Florida.

For Sanders, the problem isn’t the supposedly all-powerful Democratic “establishment” he and his followers love to inveigh against. It’s that his base – left-leaning voters under 30 – is far too narrow and too sectarian. Once the other moderates dropped out of the race, rank and file Democrats swiftly coalesced around Biden.

In short, Sanders has failed to convert rank and file Democrats to his vision for a democratic socialist “revolution.” It turns out that Democrats would prefer to have, well, an actual Democrat at the top of their ticket in November.


At some point, Sanders will have to bow to basic electoral math and call it quits. But when? Following Ohio, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Maryland are postponing their primaries. That is “backloading” the primary calendar until May or June and possibly elongating the fight for delegates. 

But Sanders and his supporters have little reason to believe delay will change the fundamental dynamics of the race. Biden now holds a commanding 21-point lead in national polls. Polls show him with big leads in upcoming primaries in Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as well as Georgia and Louisiana and New York.

In a particularly hopeful sign for Democrats, Biden is outperforming Clinton among white, blue collar and rural voters. If Biden can peal off even a fraction of these voters, it could make a big difference in the key battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which put Trump over the top four years ago.

Like many a losing candidate, Sanders claims he’s won the intellectual argument within the party, even if not its nomination. There’s no doubt that he and the activist left (with an assist from Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDebate over ICBMs: Will 'defund our defenses' be next? Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders Hillicon Valley: Broadband companies funded fake net neutrality comments, investigation finds | Twitter rolls out tip feature | Google to adopt 'hybrid work week' MORE (D-Mass.)), torqued the party’s nomination debate to the left, especially in the early going. 

In the end, though, Democrats are likely to wind up with a nominee who isn’t for “Medicare for All,” open borders, “free college” and debt relief for all, immediate fracking bans, an end to free trade or staples of Sanders’s litany of left-wing demands. 

Sanders should pause and reflect deeply on his situation. His base will clamor for him to keep fighting because, for them, the fight is the thing. But Sanders knows that the longer he stays in, the more bitter the battle will become, and the more difficult it will be to unite the party in the fall. In fact, less than 80 percent of his supporters in 2016 voted for Clinton in November against Donald TrumpDonald TrumpDemocrats, activists blast reported Trump DOJ effort to get journalists' phone records Arizona secretary of state gets security detail over death threats surrounding election audit Trump admin got phone records of WaPo reporters covering Russia probe: report MORE. Twelve percent of Sanders’ voters backed Trump, a key factor in his Electoral College win.

It’s interesting that even as he loses, polls continue to show wide admiration for Bernie Sanders within the party that he spent most of his political career refusing to join and criticizing as insufficiently radical. Democrats see him as a decent, honest, principled man at a time when our politics seems dominated by charlatans and partisan hacks.

But they don’t share his socialist values or agree with his uncompromising radicalism. In two tries for the nomination, Bernie Sanders has excited young voters but failed to bend the Democratic Party at large to his will.

It will soon be time for Sanders to accept the voters’ verdict and devote his talent for inspirational leadership to helping Democrats rid America of Donald Trump.

Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI).