Bernie Sanders will almost certainly not be the Democratic nominee for President. Let me get that out of the way before explaining why he should continue his campaign. The numbers don’t lie. Hillary Clinton has so far won 1716 delegates to Bernie Sanders’ 1430. That’s leaving “super delgates” out of the equation. 2382 delegates are needed to win.
The total degates still to be won in primaries or causes are 1065. To reach the magic number without super delegates, Clinton needs 62.5% of delegates to be awarded. Sanders would need 90%. It’s unlikely either will get to the magic number with only won delegates, though it’s possible for Clinton since she has significant leads in the two most delegate rich states, California and New Jersey. Those two likely Clinton states have 65% of the delegates yet to be awarded. Still, given the probability that Sanders will rack up wins in the smaller states, Clinton is unlikely to win it out right by the end of the primary season.
She will be very close though. Here is the remaining schedule:
Tuesday May 17, Kentucky 61, Oregon 73 delegates
Saturday June 5 – Sunday June 5, Virgin Islands 12, Puerto Rico 67 delegates
Tuesday June 7: California 546, Montana 27, New Jersey 142, New Mexico 43, North Dakota caucus 23, South Dakota 25 delegates
Tuesday June 14: District of Columbia caucus 46 delegates
To get the lead over Hillary, Sanders would have to win 63.4% of the remaining delegates, something that is virtually impossible. For Hillary to have the lead, she only has to win 36.5%. There would need to be a major external event – an indictment over her e-mails (extremely unlikely) or some major scandal – for her not to reach that extremely low bar.
Most likely, given the proportional allocation of delegates and Clinton’s strengths in the most delegate rich states, she’ll end up a few hundred short, with Sanders lagging behind. In such a case Sanders’ only hope is that the super delegates ditch Hillary and vote for him, even though she will have won far more votes. Sanders supporters, upset about Hillary’s lead among super delegates, have criticized the system as being un-democratic. The irony is, Sanders only hope is for the super delegates to ditch democracy and the voters. Again, absent some major outside upheaval, the odds of that are virtually nil.
So why should Sanders carry on? First, politics brings out wishful thinking. The “never Trump” folk were convinced until Indiana that Cruz was going to come back and “save the party.” That was never remotely likely. Sanders supporters indulge fantasies in which somehow he wins California decisively or runs the table in terms of victories, thereby giving super delegates cause to choose the number two vote getter. Some hope for that external event. So as long as wishful thinking remains viable, Sanders should be expected to continue. But there are better reasons to do so than wishful thinking.
The reasons for Sanders to stay are: 1) to help Hillary win the election in November; and 2) expand and give momentum to his populist, inspirational message.
Hillary is not a sure thing against Trump. If Sanders supporters don’t back Hillary with enthusiasm, Trump has paths to victory; don’t buy the message of some pundits that Hillary has it all but won. Trump has proven the pundits are often wrong; they didn’t think he had a chance at the GOP nomination. Sanders has to give his supporters cause to vote for Hillary by having a positive role at the convention, and then going on the campaign trail as a party united. He can only do that if he keeps fighting; otherwise, his influence is less, and Hillary is hurt.
Moreover, Sanders is changing the Democratic party, just as Trump is changing the GOP. His message about middle class decline and America becoming an oligarchy resonates with large sectors of the population, especially Millennials and working class whites – the latter a group that could go for Trump. If he can pressure the Democrats to maintain this message, perhaps even with Hillary choosing a progressive Vice Presidential candidate, his campaign will be more than a failed effort to get the nomination. It will be a force that moves both the Democratic party and perhaps the country towards the progressive left by popularizing a message that has until now only resonated with activists and elites.
Again, if he leaves pre-maturely, his influence declines. Does he wait until the convention, or drop out of the DC primary on June 14th? If the Democrats are smart, they will find a way to have Hillary and Bernie coordinate and choreograph the transition from being primary opponents to uniting to defeat Trump.
Yes, Sanders’ continued success shows that Hillary has real weaknesses as a candidate. But Hillary’s overall greater success shows the same about Bernie. That is why if the Democrats are going to defeat Trump in November, the two have to work together. For now, that means Sanders needs to keep his campaign going strong.