In the next few days, Senator Bernie Sanders will have to decide if he wants to gamble his personal reputation and the viability of the Democratic Party -- and maybe, not to put too fine a point on it, the future of the country -- on the fantastically improbable chance that he could be the party’s presidential nominee. It’s not a risk anyone should want him to take.
He has every right to remain in the race until the Democratic convention in late July, when more than 700 superdelegates will cast their votes for the first time. In the unlikely event that Hillary Clinton is indicted prior to the convention for taking foolish risks with her e-mail while secretary of state, Sanders could conceivably convince the majority of her superdelegates to switch their allegiance to him. In the most unusual election campaign in modern memory, anything’s possible.
But it’s far more likely that by staying in the race, Sanders would squander the goodwill he has earned among many Democrats over the past year, embitter his supporters, set back Clinton’s efforts to unify the party, and weaken her prospects in November. However much he may deny it, staying in would aid Donald Trump, who Sanders has called “a pathological liar,” “a real embarrassment” and a “danger to this entire world.” If Sanders refuses to go graciously and Trump wins the presidency, he will inevitably -- fairly or not -- bear some of the responsibility. That is an epitaph he surely does not want.
Sanders has long complained of a “rigged” election process, riling up crowds with the argument that superdelegates are undemocratic. But in the end, Clinton won more votes, more states, and more pledged delegates. A Sanders victory at the convention could only be engineered by establishment insiders, the very people Sanders has delighted in attacking. In fact, Sanders vaulting past Clinton would be the most undemocratic outcome in the history of modern presidential nominations.
Sanders has spent his career crusading for socialism, and he has succeeded in doing more for his cause with this campaign than he did in his 25 years in Congress, where he was the primary sponsor of just three bills that became law. He has pushed both Clinton and President Barack Obama to the left on issues that matter most to him, including increasing benefits for Social Security. And he has even managed to galvanize young people around a political ideology that in the U.S. has long been more associated with the Soviet Union than Scandinavia.
Sanders has brought new life to the Democratic Party’s left wing, which, for better and worse, is bound to be a force for years to come. He can accomplish still more by securing a commitment from party leaders to put the question of open primaries, which he strongly supports, to the convention delegates.
For a politician who isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party, Sanders has made quite an impression on it. It may not be exactly the victory he was looking for, but it is a victory nonetheless. If Sanders overstays his welcome, he risks turning it into a loss.
--Editors: Francis Barry, Michael Newman.
To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at email@example.com .