Why should Bernie drop out?
In Bernie Sanders’ recent appearances, he has tried to keep the focus on his vision for universal health care and how it relates to the deepening COVID-19 crisis, but the interviews always some how manage to revolve around two questions: When is he dropping out and why hasn’t he?
On Wednesday, those questions were posed to the Vermont senator by Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of The View and a vocal backer of Joe Biden. She alluded to the 2016 primary: “Just so we’re clear, you worked for Hillary, but it took you a very, very long time to hop in, and your people also, it took a very long time for them to hop in.”
When Sanders replied that he doesn’t “accept that characterization,” Goldberg asked point blank: “Why are you still in the race?”
Afterward, actress Alyssa Milano raised a lot of ire on Twitter by thanking Goldberg for not taking “bullshit from our politicians.” She called the Sanders campaign “morally bankrupt,” erroneously claiming that it was still fundraising amid the crisis (The campaign stopped ad buys and has used its donor list to raise $3 million for coronavirus relief thus far).
She continued tossing fuel on the fire. In another thread she called for unity out one side of her mouth while vilifying Sanders’ base as “toxic” out of the other. In a report by The Hill, unnamed Biden allies struck a similar note, scolding Sanders for not quitting and underscoring the “need to be on the same team.”
Those making this argument take it as a given that Sanders is being somehow being divisive by continuing his campaign, but none of them can adequately explain how his dropping out will actually help unify the party.
If anything, the opposite is true.
A huge portion of Sanders’ voters already thinks the process is rigged, and it doesn’t help that the media and the Democratic establishment have been calling for an early end to the primary since Biden’s big wins on Super Tuesday.
The latest YouGov poll found that nearly a super-majority of primary voters want Sanders to continue his campaign until more states have voted—43 percent want him to stay in until the convention versus 24 percent who think he should drop out immediately.
In addition to being a matter of principle, letting democracy run its course has practical implications in terms of beating Donald Trump. Biden’s massive enthusiasm gap is a problem as it is—he has the lowest enthusiasm of any Democratic candidate in the past 20 years—and it will only alienate more voters if they feel they had no voice in the matter.
Sanders has refrained from negative campaigning and shifted his focus to exclusively dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. He’s not really competing with Biden for donor dollars or forcing him to spend on ads. There’s no good reason for him to drop out and a perfectly valid one for him to stay in.
Pundits are baffled that Sanders is continuing despite his slim odds of winning because they think winning is all that matters. They fundamentally misunderstand who Bernie Sanders is and what his campaign is all about.
Sanders doesn’t respond to the same incentives. He can’t be bought off with a cabinet position or the prospect of a vice presidential nomination. For most politicians, power is an end, but for Sanders, it’s merely a means. If dropping out right now helped advance his policy agenda, he would do that.
The best path forward is to stay in the race.
His flagship policy, Medicare for All, is gaining traction, with the largest increases in net support coming from independents and Republicans. Overnight, the pandemic has left millions jobless and uninsured. The underinsured, who already account for nearly half the adult population, could be bankrupted by the cost of treatment should they contract the virus.
Medicare for All is an idea whose time has come and it needs a champion. Biden is adamantly opposed to it, and can’t be expected to just come to Jesus on his own.
Sanders continues to be maligned for his decision to stay in the race in 2016 even though there is no evidence that it actually cost Clinton the election.
It was nevertheless the right choice because he managed to get a number of his policy positions onto the Democratic platform. Through his staunch advocacy for Medicare for All, he continued to push the party further to the left on the issue. Many of the leading candidates in the 2020 primary felt compelled to advocate or at least pay lip service to some version of the policy.
The onus is inexplicably placed on Sanders to unite the party as if he could drop out today and just gift his entire base to Biden, but Sanders’ movement is bound together entirely by a shared set of ideas. To win them over, Biden has to sincerely embrace those ideas—and there’s the rub.
Even if he proclaims his support for Medicare for All—as he did for some form of tuition-free college—his sincerity will always be in doubt. From busing to “tough-on-crime” laws to the Iraq War—Biden’s entire career has been marked by the most shameless kind of political opportunism.
His reliance on the largesse of the finance and insurance industry also harms his credibility on the issue. The health care industry has given more to Biden than any candidate and health stocks rallied after his victory on Super Tuesday, so it’s no secret that they see Biden as the protector of their interests.
During the last debate, Sanders gave Biden a roadmap for how to win his supporters over and that included renouncing donations from billionaires and Super PACs, which is something Biden will not and cannot do.
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Lacking Sanders’ small-donor fundraising capacity, Biden has no choice but to depend on big business. Despite his March boost, his campaign is still cash-strapped. Trump has more cash on hand than Biden raised over the course of his entire campaign and he has yet to flesh out his anemic staff. Bernie has raised $80 million more than Biden and can lean on a gigantic volunteer base.
Regardless of whether Sanders stays in or drops out, Biden still faces an uphill battle in terms of winning the support of both the left and the young. Nearly every critique of Sanders’ campaign has cited his inability to build coalitions as his Achilles’ heel, yet Biden now faces the exact same problem.
Biden has spent his whole life triangulating with the right that it has destroyed the left’s trust. His backers see him as a compromiser, but to Sanders’ supporters, he’s just compromised.