The moment the Democratic establishment has been waiting for has finally arrived. After an impressive string of victories in smaller states, Bernie Sanders lost the New York primary Tuesday night and with it, his best shot at closing the yawning delegate gap between him and Hillary Clinton.
Now is the time insiders say Sanders should start lining up behind Clinton. Will Sanders offer up the olive branch and throw his support to Clinton in the interest of the beating Trump? Or will he continue with the increasingly aggressive approach his campaign debuted in the lead-up to New York?
How he handles the race in following days could determine the course of the primary.
For operatives reading the smoke signals, early signs aren’t promising for would-be uniters. Sanders shows no signs of dropping the tough talk, despite the increasingly difficult delegate math, the dwindling number of states and the large margins by which he’d have to win. And that’s because, with regard to being aggressive, Bernie Sanders is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
Sure his path to the presidency is increasingly narrow. Sure he’d have to do better than the polls are projecting and probably win three of the five primaries next week and more in the weeks to follow. Sure a win looks increasingly impossible. And yet, he’s not ready to give up on his revolution because as soon as he throws his support behind Clinton, the movement he’s fought for is over.
So instead, he’s blasting out statements about winning through adversity. He’s decrying the politics of closed primaries and talking up his chances in the upcoming primaries of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland. He’s unleashing his campaign manager on national television, to say things like that they’ll fight all the way to the Democratic convention in July, working to flip superdelegates rather than unite behind the Democratic nominee.
These are not the noises of a man or campaign preparing for a hearty and imminent embrace of Hillary Clinton. And for an above-the-fray issues guy, Sanders has spent a surprising amount of time devoted to complaints about process. Heading into the New York primary, for instance, his campaign took issue with everything from the debate schedule, to the closed primary, to Clinton’s joint fundraising with the DNC.
Over at Vox, Ezra Klein has written about how risky, if personally strategic, Sanders’ attack on primary politics really is. “It’s one thing, after all, to see your candidate lose”, writes Klein. “It’s another to see the election stolen, and that’s increasingly how Sanders supporters are understanding the race ”.
Perhaps he needn’t be so worried. After all, the majority of Democratic primary voters will still likely support her in the general – 85% of New York primary-goers are still expected to do so . And perhaps a best-case scenario is still possible for liberals where Sanders succeeds in pushing Clinton as far left as possible without damaging her in a general. Perhaps he’ll still do an about face and get behind her.
Clinton has been desperately trying to pivot toward the general, but at this critical juncture anyway, Sanders seems utterly unconcerned with helping her do that. And while it may be a bad look for Democrats, that’s hardly been Sanders concern. Until he ran for president, he wasn’t even a Democrat. In fact, throwing her his support would be at odds with the ideological purity he stands for.
Sanders prefers not to get nasty, but he’ll go there to defend his revolution. Before, he didn’t have to be aggressive to stay relevant. Now being nasty is a matter of survival; when he puts down the sword, it’s over. He knows this better than anyone else, and that’s why he shows no signs of giving up: he wants his message and influence to survive as long as possible.
Some would argue he’s already been heard. That he’s already pushed Clinton left on everything from Keystone to trade policy and the minimum wage. That he’s already helped fire up a grassroots movement that will continue to push for his message long after he’s ceased to be a viable candidate. But Sanders still isn’t satisfied. It’s part of his charm, and also, why he’s so dangerous for Clinton and the party – he’ll never, ever be satisfied.
He’s a good revolutionary that way.