Bernie Sanders has less reason to leave the race now
Less argument exists for Bernie Sanders to quit the presidential race now than existed four years ago. Sanders is again positioned where he was then — holding the Party’s left wing and receiving about the same support — while facing a weaker opponent and being less beholden to the Party’s establishment.
If it made sense to run the whole race in 2016, then it makes even more to finish it again.
The Democratic and media establishment want Sanders out of the 2020 race. Cynically, you could say they are in cahoots, but each has a reason. Democrats’ establishment want nothing to do with Sanders and want nothing to undermine Biden — now or in November.
On the other hand, the establishment media likes horse races, and a two-horse race is easier to cover than two separate races — especially when they believe one is over.
Of course, Sanders neither wants to go, nor does he have to. In fact, four years ago that’s exactly what he did — he didn’t drop out. If we benchmark from Sanders’s baseline, not the two establishments’, there is less reason for him to leave now.
Overlooked is the fact that Sanders is where he was in 2016’s race: He is holding a very significant share of support on the Party’s left. In 2016, he won 45.6 percent of the awarded delegates. Today, he has won 39.7 percent so far; however, just counting the split between him and Biden — the only one mattering going forward — he would win 42.9 percent, less than three percentage points below his 2016 level.
Holding over 40 percent of the delegates would hardly be inconsequential, which is why the Party establishment wants him out. Even though he’s only slightly behind his 2016 pace, Sanders is better positioned now.
First, super delegates do not vote on 2020’s first ballot; in 2016, their ability to do so guaranteed Hillary Clinton the nomination from day one. Second, Biden is a much weaker candidate than Clinton was. In 2016, she was the consensus leader from poll to poll; Biden has only recently risen from the back of the pack. There is a reason for such a dramatic difference, which also serves as an advantage to Sanders.
Sanders can advance his leftist agenda now because of Biden’s weakness, which is his inability to withstand Sanders’s policies. Case in point: Democrats’ March 16 debate saw Biden dramatically up his ante on free college, going from two years to four for some families.
Compared with how Hillary Clinton stood at this stage of the game, Biden remains vulnerable; she did not. For Sanders, that means opportunity.
Sanders is not the only reason he can push Biden left; the left itself is much stronger and more pervasive than four years ago. Juxtapose Biden’s overall positions with Hillary Clinton’s: Biden is already much further left than she was — so too was the entire 2020 field.
Sanders also owes the Democrat establishment much less than he did in 2016. If anything, the debt between Sanders and the Party establishment runs the other way. It is Sanders’s left that has provided energy and success to the Party, not the other way around. Sanders championed and channeled the left that won the Party the House in 2018; the establishment did not — they only benefited.
If Sanders was the Party’s nuisance four years ago, he is its essence now. Of course, the Party establishment does not see things that way. They still blame him for dogging Hillary Clinton throughout the 2016’s primary cycle, and then not sufficiently supporting her in November. Because Sanders is clearly a stronger candidate than Biden now, they are even more opposed to him this time.
The Party establishment’s response to Sanders means that he — and his followers — can feel even less an obligation to drop out to help them out. Ostracism can also be liberating. Twice spurned and four years older, Sanders has never had greater license to follow his own course.
Tied with where he was in 2016, better positioned relative to his current opponent and never freer to flout the Party’s establishment, Sanders has ample reasons to stay the course now — and he already had ample precedent. Coronavirus only enhances his calculation.
In general, when trailing — as Sanders is — anything shaking up the status quo helps. In particular, Biden’s performance has not made the case that Sanders should leave — if anything, it has made the case that Biden has. It adds just the latest argument that Biden is not up to being the nominee, let alone president. With Sanders the last challenger standing, it just lengthens his list of reasons to stay in the race and give Democrats an alternative.
J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.
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