Conceding the Inevitable, Sanders Bows Out, Backs Biden
He ended by quoting Nelson Mandela, the South African civil rights leader who said that “it always seems impossible until it is done.” And while he insisted that his ideals would prevail, at 78 years old, Bernie Sanders finally admitted he isn’t the candidate to win the White House.
The progressive senator’s revolution may continue, but his candidacy is over. Sanders made that announcement from self-isolation Wednesday, addressing over 100,000 supporters during a video conference from his living room.
Some supporters want him to fight on until the bitter end, Sanders acknowledged, “but as I see the crisis gripping the nation, exacerbated by a president unwilling or unable to provide any kind of credible leadership, and the work that needs to be done to protect people in this most desperate hour, I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win, and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour."
The virus now sweeping across the globe has eviscerated the traditional campaign trail, leaving the candidate who once filled arenas in lonely quarantine. "I wish I could give you better news, but I think you know the truth, and that is that we are now some 300 delegates behind Vice President Biden, and the path toward victory is virtually impossible," Sanders said during the livestream.
Autopsies are now being conducted, and two culprits have emerged as possible causes of death: COVID-19 and/or the political establishment.
The health crisis created an opportunity for a bold leader, an FDR type who could rally the nation, Nomiki Konst told RealClearPolitics. “But any campaign strategy, you’ve had to throw out the window,” the national Sanders surrogate explained. “It's hard to structure a campaign when you don't know when the primaries are going to be; it’s hard to structure a campaign even if half the primaries are still left.”
President Trump saw a hit job reflected in the announcement -- and likely spotted an opportunity to sow discord. Trump has always appeared to have a soft spot for the populist at the other end of the political spectrum and he blamed Sanders’ demise on the Democratic National Committee.
“Bernie Sanders is OUT! Thank you to Elizabeth Warren. If not for her, Bernie would have won almost every state on Super Tuesday!” the president tweeted in reference to previous battles between the two progressive candidates. “This ended just like the Democrats & the DNC wanted, same as the Crooked Hillary fiasco. The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party, TRADE!”
Biden is hell-bent on keeping that from happening. The former vice president had a 758-word statement ready to go, and the presumptive Democratic nominee hit “send” moments after Sanders concluded his remarks. The only anti-Trump champion left, he was gracious and conciliatory toward his former competitor.
Biden praised Sanders for transforming the race and the entire political landscape: “He hasn’t just run a political campaign; he’s created a movement.” And he credited the avowed democratic socialist for elevating issues such as affordable college, accessible health care and a higher minimum wage. “And while Bernie and I may not agree on how we might get there, we agree on the ultimate goal for these issues and many more.”
More importantly, Biden tried to rally Sanders’ supporters to his candidacy, saying, “I’ll be reaching out to you. You will be heard by me. As you say: Not me, us.”
But Sanders will not exit entirely. He will remain on the ballot in each state, many of which have pushed back their primaries due to the pandemic. “And while Vice President Biden will be the nominee,” he announced, “we must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform.”
There is nothing to stop Biden from clinching the nomination at that convention now. But whether Democrats will actually meet in Milwaukee as planned is somewhat up in the air as the party balances political concerns with public health considerations.
For Sanders, convention clout is a disappointing consolation prize for a candidate who has been runner-up in back-to-back presidential campaigns. “We didn’t win what we came for,” Sanders Campaign Manager Faiz Shakir admitted after his boss dropped out, “but we won the battle for the future.”
“Our campaign revealed a generational split. The future rests with Bernie’s vision, ideas and platform. And those of us who believe in it still have much work to do, and it will get done!” he continued.
That revolution, which came close to crippling Hillary Clinton in 2016 and nearly toppled Biden in 2020, must again settle for an unsatisfactory champion. Biden must rally those progressives to his centrist banner to succeed. It will be difficult.
Even before governors started ordering states to shelter in place, a video of a young millennial went viral. She was in her pajamas, dancing and singing, “Democrats! Please don’t make me vote for Joe Biden!” Much of the country now remains house-bound, a large portion of them likely wearing pajamas. If they are inclined to vote against Trump, they only have one option left.