How It Ended for Sanders

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In the end, the Democratic primary race finished as it started: with Joe Biden.

While the former vice president wasn’t the first candidate in the contest — he waited until late April last year to jump into the race — he maintained a lead that almost none of his 26 competitors could rival.

None except Bernie Sanders. For a brief moment in early February, it looked as though the firebrand liberal senator from Vermont might be able to win it all — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and then cruise to the nomination.

A poor showing on Super Tuesday marked the beginning of the end of his effort. And today, Mr. Sanders finally reached the conclusion that has seemed inevitable for more than a month, formally ending his second — and most likely final — bid for the presidency.

Within minutes of his exit, some of the most ardent Bernie backers began blaming the “Democratic establishment” for the defeat.

It’s an argument Mr. Sanders obliquely referred to during his remarks to supporters this morning.

“The greatest obstacle to real social change has everything to do with the power of the corporate and political establishment to limit our vision as to what is possible,” he said.

That’s a case President Trump is eager to seize upon, as he tries to exploit divisions within the Democratic Party for his own gain. “This ended just like the Democrats & the DNC wanted,” he wrote on Twitter, as Mr. Sanders spoke. “The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party.”

Certainly, a fair number of Democratic leaders, officials and superdelegates worried about a Sanders victory, fearing his liberal proposals would alienate crucial swing voters in the general election.

But to say that Mr. Sanders was blocked by a cabal of Democratic power brokers who refused to let him win the nomination seriously overstates the power of the “establishment” in a moment when voters have less trust in government and democratic institutions than at any time in nearly half a century.

Like Republicans’ attempts to hurt Mr. Trump during the 2016 race, Democrats’ nascent efforts to undermine Mr. Sanders never got off the ground. The few that did were largely ineffective.

There are no more smoke-filled rooms. In the end, Mr. Sanders lost the race himself.

With his devoted base of support, the question facing Mr. Sanders’s campaign was always about his ceiling — not his floor. Could he grow his following from the minority bloc that stuck with him in 2016?

After four years of preparations, more than $100 million in donations and 414 days of campaigning, the answer turned out to be no.

In many state primaries, he performed worse than he did four years ago, despite significantly higher turnout. Efforts to win over black voters, a group he struggled to woo in 2016, largely failed.

The coronavirus pandemic only deepened the challenge for Mr. Sanders, effectively freezing the primary with Mr. Biden well ahead. The question quickly became when — not if — Mr. Sanders would accept defeat.

Though Mr. Sanders has lost the nomination twice, he has “won the ideological struggle,” as he put it today. Mr. Biden may not have embraced “Medicare for all,” but he has already adopted a number of left-leaning positions considered politically treacherous just four years ago, from his own public-option health care plan to a version of Mr. Sanders’s proposal for free college.

But there are still signs that Mr. Biden will have to do more to win over Mr. Sanders’s coalition of young and liberal voters, many of whom are skeptical of party fixtures like the former vice president.

Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, pleaded for unity around “our presumptive nominee” as liberal, youth-driven organizations like the Sunrise Movement demanded changes in policy and personnel from Mr. Biden.

Mr. Sanders hopes to push his rival even further, declaring that he is staying on the ballot in upcoming contests to collect delegates in hopes of influencing the party platform at the convention. But he also promised that Democrats would enter the fall campaign “standing united.”

Clearly, Mr. Sanders does not have the same animosity for Mr. Biden that embittered the primary race four years ago. Yet, pushing the party to the left without creating insurmountable divides in the process remains a tricky line to walk.

Particularly when the goal is defeating an incumbent president with a fiercely devoted base of his own.

We’re sharing some of your dispatches from around the globe about life in the time of the coronavirus.

In tonight’s installment, David L. Maack, a former alderman from Racine, Wis., shared his experience of voting in the state’s elections, which were held yesterday.

From state and national party conventions to serving 10 years as an alderman, politics has been a part of my life for a long time. Election Day is like the Super Bowl to me and I look forward to being one of the first in line to vote. Not this year. For the first time ever, I cast my ballot early. I requested an absentee ballot last week, filled it out on Saturday and dropped it off at a box set up at City Hall. Much easier process than voting at the polling place, but for this “political junkie” it wasn’t the same. However, the risk was too great to maintain my tradition of being first in line.

Have you come up with a clever way to manage social distancing? How’s that distance learning going? We want to hear it. Email us at [email protected]. (Don’t forget to include your name and where you live.)


For those of you Zooming a Passover Seder tonight, McSweeney’s has (more than) four questions for Dr. Anthony Fauci:

My Uncle Murray insists on tweeting that Manischewitz cures coronavirus. In case the president sees this, please tell him it’s not true. Also that he shouldn’t retweet it, no matter how tempted he is by Uncle Murray’s use of all-caps.

Chag (socially distant) v’Sameach from On Politics and The New York Times.

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