Bernie Sanders: If Tulsi Gabbard Doesn't Have To Quit, I Don't Either
After Tuesday's electoral bloodletting, the question became less if Bernie Sanders would leave the race but when. The Vermont senator addressed the press Wednesday and declared he wasn't going anywhere:
SANDERS: Last night obviously was not a good night for our campaign from a delegate point of view ... We lost in ... Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Idaho. On the other hand, we won North Dakota and we lead the vote count in the state of Washington.
And on yet another hand, it looks like Sanders is also going to lose Washington. Biden pulled ahead as more votes were counted, and at least one respected pollster called the state for him Wednesday. Biden was even ahead in King County, which is where Seattle is. This is not a big shock because Hillary Clinton won the Washington primary in 2016, but Washington also had a caucus, which is what actually counted for delegates. There are fewer caucuses during this primary election and that has obviously hurt Sanders.
Sanders said it was critical that Democrats defeat Donald Trump, whom he called the most “dangerous president in the modern history of our country." He described Trump as a “a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe and a religious bigot" and vowed to do everything in his power to help remove him from office. A growing number of people believe the best thing Sanders could do is drop out of the race. There is a chess move called “resignation," where you recognize that your position is lost and you quit out of respect to your opponent's superior skills. It's also embarrassing to just sit there and wait for them to checkmate you. The delegate math and remaining primary contests are clear: Joe Biden is the inevitable winner. Checkmate.
Sanders pointed out that Biden is winning older people who vote while he is dominating among younger people who don't. However, although Sanders is doing well with young voters, they haven't turned up in sufficient numbers to offset Biden's dominance with other demos. Sanders is also correct that exit polls showed unlikely levels of support for his “progressive agenda," but the voters still prefer Biden. He said that despite support for that agenda, people keep telling him they are voting for Biden, because that's who they think can beat Trump, acknowledging that he's losing/lost the "electability" argument. That's probably a tough admission, but polls consistently show that top-of-mind for Democratic primary voters is beating Trump in November, and Biden does represent a return to regular order. I doubt Republicans will ever let that happen, but stability is what voters crave right now. Then maybe they'll consider more progressive policies, as long as Republicans don't nominate more unstable wannabe despots who are so unfit for office we hide under our beds in fear.
Sanders still plans to debate Biden Sunday in Arizona. There will be no audience because of coronavirus concerns, but it'll be the first one-on-one debate between the remaining non-Tulsi Gabbard candidates. Sanders said he intends to grill the former vice president on health care, poverty, climate change, mass incarceration and reforming the criminal-justice system, and listed out some of the questions he plans to ask Biden on Sunday, and it was almost like he was telling Biden exactly how he could work to get Sanders supporters onside. This frustrated some Democrats who think a vigorous debate on the issues only benefits Trump somehow.
I personally am someone who'd resign when I'd determined the chess match was hopeless. I wish life was like superhero movies where you press on against insurmountable odds and manage to carry the day. There is a line from the 1980s “Thundercats" cartoon where Lion-O tells his opponent in a race, “I haven't lost until you've won." Never giving up appeals to the young voter hidden inside the crusty old duffer I currently am.
I appreciate the position that we need to unify behind the presumptive nominee and focus on Trump. However, Biden's candidacy was never not about Trump. His wasn't the typical campaign where he appealed to party extremes during the primary and needs time to reset for the general election. That's the Mitt Romney “Etch-a-Sketch maneuver." Biden has consistently run a general election campaign geared at the supposed great American middle from day one. (Democrats in general tend to do this more than Republicans.)
Someone smart at Wonkette suggested that we let people vote. We go through this every primary season where we tell more than half of primary voters that their races won't count and are essentially beauty contests that the presumptive nominee uses to rack up delegates. There are 31 more primaries in such states as New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Oregon, New Mexico.
I get the fear of a war of attrition where Biden is too battered and bloodied to confront Trump. And maybe Sanders can push Biden to openly adopt the progressive policies voters want but would prefer someone other than Sanders advance.
I appreciate that there are a lot of Democrats who would prefer that Sanders go away forever, but 10-year-old me can't help thinking that Sanders hasn't lost until Biden's won.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."