There is tremendous power in the campaign that Bernie Sanders has run, and he’s absolutely right on a great many issues. He’s right that the American economy is rigged. He’s right that climate change is currently the greatest threat to the United States, yet our country has done little to nothing to fight it. He’s right that Wall Street banks need to be reigned in, and he’s right about the costs of war. Most importantly, he’s right that a corrupt campaign finance system stands at the center of many of the most pressing problems our nation faces. But by remaining in the race, he’s actively fighting against a solution to them.
Much of his campaign has hinged on the idea of a “political revolution,” a rising up of the working- and middle-classes to take back their country by electing politicians who focus on them, rather than the millionaires and billionaires. Throw in Bernie’s Brooklyn accent and trademark hand gestures, and it’s no wonder that his campaign has seen the level of enthusiasm that it has.
In another world, Sanders could take his base into a general election and likely defeat Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. But let’s look at the world we’ve been given: Sanders trails Clinton by 277 pledged delegates, a lead so large that Clinton would remain ahead in pledged delegate count even if she were to lose every remaining primary and caucus by 16 percent. Yesterday, that pledged delegate gap expanded; Sanders lost Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and lost closely in Connecticut while only winning Rhode Island — two states with a total of 103 delegates up for grabs. To put that number in context, Pennsylvania alone has 210 delegates up for grabs, and Maryland has 118.
Simply put, Sanders has no viable path to the presidency at this point. His continued presence in the race is largely symbolic, and the thing about symbolic campaigns is that they are just that: symbolic.
The time for symbolism is over. To be blunt, when Bernie talks about a political revolution, he is talking about electing progressives and liberals to the House and Senate. People who will fight for the issues at the center of Senator Sanders’s campaign. If Bernie really cares about the type of revolution he has been advocating for, he should ask himself what it will take for such a revolution to actually take place in light of the dramatic pledged delegate gap.
The answer isn’t complicated. For progressives to do well on down-ballot races, two things need to happen: (1) they need to raise enough money to compete against candidates backed by corporate donors, and (2) they need to ride the wave started by the Democrat at the top of the ballot — and that wave must be large enough to help carry them to victory.
The first is fairly intuitive: it takes money to get your name out there, and funds raised are the number one indicator of election result. The second is perhaps a bit less clear: when voters have relatively little information about the candidates for a given position, they generally vote for the candidate representing the party that voted for atop the ballot. A political revolution is possible — especially if the Republican candidate is as polarizing a figure as Trump or Cruz — but it takes money and wide margins in the presidential race.
Let’s start with money. Currently, the Clinton campaign has just over $30 million in cash on hand. If Sanders continues to fight on, Clinton will have no choice but to continue to campaign aggressively in states featuring upcoming contests. She will be forced to spend millions of dollars in expensive media markets like the ones in California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. And as her fundraising has slowed in the past few months, she will likely enter general election season strapped for cash. But if Sanders were to drop out of the race tomorrow, she could refocus her efforts away from campaigning and into fundraising in order to raise enough money to flood media markets with ads in support of both herself and down-ballot Democrats in the months leading up to the general election.
And how about margins? Well, in contrast to the brutal campaigns run by the Republican presidential candidates, the Democratic race has been quite civil — but despite the relative civility of the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, the Democratic party is deeply divided. As Sanders has attacked Clinton as a member of the “establishment,” many Sanders supporters have made clear that they do not plan to support the former Secretary of State in the general election. Some say that they will write in Bernie Sanders’s name, and others even say they will turn to his ideological opposite in the race, Donald Trump. If large numbers of supporters choose either option, the number of potential down-ballot Democrat supporters will decrease dramatically.
By stepping out of the race before he is mathematically eliminated and powerfully backing Mrs. Clinton, Sanders will send a message to his supporters that sometimes picking the lesser of two evils can lead to a tremendous amount of good. The longer Bernie waits to exit the race, the less time his more ardent supporters will have to accept Hillary Clinton as their new best option to lead to the type of change they seek. That means a decreased chance of the Democrats taking back the Senate and making strides toward taking back the House of Representatives and also a decreased chance of the 45th president being a Democrat.
The next president will choose the next two or three Supreme Court appointments, and the party he or she represents may mean the difference between the overturning of Citizens United and continued attacks against the democratic process. For supporters of a candidate who fights so hard for campaign finance reform, sympathetic Supreme Court appointees and a Congress willing to fight to uphold the voting rights of the American people should be the ultimate goal. And by dropping out of the race, Sanders significantly increases the prospects of both of those things.
Some say that Sanders should remain in the race so that Democrats will continue to receive media coverage and keep their supporters engaged in the process. But if you’re one of the many who believe this, ask yourself this: would it be so bad if the media focused a bit more on the candidates seeking the Republican nomination? Would it be so bad if independents and former Sanders supporters were overwhelmed by the sheer insanity of Cruz and Trump’s ideas and rhetoric for another month or two? If anything, it would highlight the radical differences between the two parties and demonstrate just how dangerous a Cruz or Trump presidency would be. Kasich supporters would have to suffer through another month-plus of hearing the two GOP frontrunners hurl insults at each other, and many of them would begrudgingly reach across party lines to support Hillary. For some, their decision to support a Democrat for the presidency would lead to them supporting Democrats down-ballot as they see the Republican party leaving them behind.
Others say that Bernie should stick it through to the convention to convince superdelegates to reverse course and back him instead. But entering the convention and seeking to convince superdelegates to shift their support him — even though he has received almost 2.7 million votes fewer than his competitor — would be the very type of undemocratic, disgraceful move that he has railed against throughout his campaign.
Sander’s biggest strength has been the perceived genuineness of his desire to make the democratic process reflective of the true will of the people. He’s spoken out against the undemocratic use of superdelegates to determine the party’s nominee, and rightly so. He’s criticized closed primaries and caucuses which prevent millions of voters from participating in either party’s contest. Good for him.
If Senator Sanders is willing to enter the convention and try to convince superdelegates to turn their backs on the will of the people, he must be willing to accept that objectionable means can sometimes be justified if they are in pursuit of a morally just goal. With that in mind, how can he justify claiming — as he has throughout his campaign — that “you can’t change a corrupt system by taking its money?”
Clearly, even Senator Sanders understands that some ends can justify less-than-perfect means. I don’t claim to be comfortable with the fact that Super PACs have raised over $60 million for Secretary Clinton over the course of this election — and believe me, I’m not — but at this point, the only viable path to anything remotely resembling Bernie’s revolution relies on the unification of the Democratic party. Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president. That much is clear; the only question is when she can begin to focus her efforts on the general election.
For Mr. Sanders and his supporters, the path will not be what they envisioned or hoped for, but in this case, the ends absolutely do justify the means. Bernie should drop out, for the sake of his revolution.
Editor’s note: If you would like to send your response or make an Op-Ed contribution to the Opinion section, please email us at [email protected] The Opinion section looks forward to hearing from you.