As of Wednesday morning, the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is effectively over. Former vice president Joe Biden has won. Any objection Senator Bernie Sanders might offer will be drowned out. The rallies are over, canceled because of the coronavirus. The media attention has disappeared in the same direction.
Last week, Biden had a shockingly good Super Tuesday. This week, of the six contests held on Tuesday, Biden has so far been declared the winner of four of them, while Sanders won North Dakota, and Washington — a state Sanders was expected to win — is too close to call.
And next week’s contests will be a bloodbath, if Sanders sticks around to experience it. Just look at Florida, where 219 delegates are up for grabs and polls suggest that Biden will win all of them.
Exit polls reveal that Biden is now winning nearly every demographic in every region of the country. Further, even in places like college towns where Sanders performs best, Biden is seriously competing. On Tuesday, Biden even won Boone County, Mo., home of the state’s largest college, the University of Missouri.
In two weeks Biden has delivered two huge surprises: First, he came back from the dead to become the presumptive Democratic nominee. Second, the primary season won’t be protracted after all.
Indeed, the talk of a contested Democratic convention should be over for anyone who can do math. When all of the delegates from Tuesday’s contests are allocated, Biden will have half of the delegates he needs to be the nominee. Next week he is expected to dramatically grow that lead.
After that Sanders will need to win every remaining contest by at least eight percentage points. But Biden holds a 20 point national lead and you can count on one hand the number of states that still MIGHT go for Sanders: Oregon, Hawaii, Kansas, Wyoming, and Alaska. And even if he has routs in those places, that isn’t a lot of delegates.
The ball is now in Sanders’ court as to how he wants to end this campaign. He basically has three options.
- Drop out now
Dropping out before the convention is not how “the revolution” was supposed to end. And Sanders still has the money and the name recognition to move forward. But what he doesn’t have is a path to the nomination. That realization is what led other candidates to drop out in the weeks and months leading up to last night.
Few can exactly blame him for wanting to see this play out a little longer. This is, no doubt, his last presidential campaign. What’s a few days?
- Stay for Sunday’s debate then drop out
This is probably the most likely scenario. Sunday’s debate is the last chance for Sanders to change a race that is already slipping away from him. It will be the first time that Biden and Sanders will be one-on-one on a debate stage and, for Sanders, there is a lot of unfinished political business to be done.
Sanders may decide he will use the debate less as one last chance to get his campaign back on track, but as one last chance to move Biden further left on some issues. He may not get Biden to agree to Medicare for All but he can elicit promises, on national television, on climate change or free higher education.
Then on Monday, the day between the debate and what could be labeled a Horrible Sanders Tuesday, he bows out.
- Wait until convention
Sanders, of course, could take this to the convention where he will quite likely lose.
There is a reason for Sanders to do this, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem for Biden. One thing that Sanders learned from 2016 was that changing American politics requires building organizations and competing in all 50 states to lay the groundwork for your ideas. Staying in the race through every state and into the convention does that.
While there is probably no way that Sanders will win, say, the Georgia primary on March 24, it is possible that one Sanders volunteer there will strike up a conversation with another. From that new friendship, one of them may decide to run for school board or state representative in a progressive area. Multiply that by ten, then a hundred — soon, candidates around the country will be talking about the ideas of the Sanders campaign. It’s a different kind of revolution, but perhaps a more effective one.
A key point: Sanders may only be allowed the political space to do this if he tones down the rhetoric and doesn’t attack Biden now that he’s clearly going to be the nominee.
Sanders got much closer to winning this thing than he did in 2016, when his supporters accused the Democratic National Committee of rigging the primary for Hillary Clinton. What stopped him this year was different: Voters decided they wanted someone else.