Is It Too Late for Bernie Sanders to Catch Up to Joe Biden’s Delegate Lead?

Date: 2020-03-11 17:50:49

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Democrats are pressuring Bernie Sanders to drop out of the presidential race in order to unify the progressive and moderate wings of the party against their common foe: Donald Trump. #BernieSanders #JoeBiden #DonaldTrump

After a series of wins on Tuesday extended Joe Biden’s delegate lead to an all-but-insurmountable level, Democratic leaders began publicly calling on Sanders to end his campaign, fearing a prolonged fight could splinter the party and deliver Trump another term in office.

Sanders was having none of it. He agreed in a statement that he read to reporters in Vermont on Wednesday that defeating Trump was the party’s ultimate goal, but he remained convinced he was the candidate to do it. He insisted that voters supported his progressive agenda, even though they were choosing Biden for “electability” reasons.

“Today I say to the Democratic establishment, in order to win in the future, you need to win the voters who represent the future of our country and you must speak to the issues of concern to them,” he said.

Easing Sanders out of the race won’t be an easy task. Vermont Democrats who know him say it’s unlikely he would succumb to party pressure and will need to come to such a conclusion on his own.

“I’ve known Bernie Sanders for many, many years,” said Peter Shumlin, the former governor of Vermont who is supporting Biden. “He’s pragmatic. He’s practical and nobody is going to influence Bernie and Jane in this decision,” he said, referring to Sanders’s wife.

Madeleine Kunin, who served as governor of Vermont in the 1980s, winning a second term against an independent challenge from Sanders in 1986, said she believes Sanders will eventually decide to drop out. She said she hopes he does so quickly.

“I think it was a mistake in 2016 to continue to attack Hillary mercilessly,” Kunin said of Sanders’s 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton. “My hope is that Bernie would recognize that himself, that he doesn’t want to be a spoiler this time again.”

She added: “I hope he would ease up on Biden in the next debate because it only helps Trump.” Sanders and Biden are scheduled to debate Sunday in Phoenix.

The Sanders campaign batted away any speculation that he would drop out, saying the senator will debate Biden on Sunday and events were only being canceled due to coronavirus fears.

Other key Democrats say the time has come.

“I think when the night is over, Joe Biden will be the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and, quite frankly, if the night ends the way it has begun, I think it is time for us to shut this primary down, it is time for us to cancel the rest of these debates,” Representative James Clyburn, who almost singlehandedly revived Biden’s campaign with his endorsement ahead of the South Carolina primary last month, told NPR Tuesday night.

Even if they’re not so blunt, dozens of Democratic leaders have said it’s time for Sanders to end his campaign, either indirectly by endorsing Biden or by talking about party unity.

“We need to bring the party together,” said former rival Andrew Yang, a Sanders supporter in 2016. “We need to start working on defeating Donald Trump in the fall.”

Sanders hasn’t wavered from his stated commitment to back Biden if the former vice president wins the nomination. But over the past week, he has also escalated his attacks against Biden in an effort to draw sharper contrasts with his chief rival. Sanders has criticized Biden for supporting “disastrous” trade deals like NATFA and the Iraq war. He has also condemned Biden’s record on same-sex marriage, federal funding for abortions and the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” that allowed some LGBTQ people to serve but only if they did not reveal their sexuality.

Some Democrats blame Trump’s victory over Clinton on the drawn-out primary in 2016, when Sanders refused to drop out of the race even after he no longer had a plausible path to the nomination. The failure to unite the party, they argue, depressed turnout in key swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, where Trump defeated Clinton by narrow margins.

Now, after his losses to Biden on Tuesday night, Sanders once again faces bleak odds and pressure to drop out.

(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, also sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He endorsed Joe Biden on March 4.)

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