I can’t decide what makes me more sick and tired: Bernie Sanders or being sick and tired of Bernie Sanders.
Four years ago, Sanders’ refusal to accept the reality that he was not going to be the Democratic nominee for president dragged the 2016 primary race with Hillary Clinton all the way to the party convention in July — undoubtedly damaging her candidacy.
Four years later it’s like watching the same bad movie again. In 2020, Sanders has even less chance of overtaking Joe Biden. He’s performed worse than he did in 2016. Since the South Carolina primary, Biden has trounced him nearly everywhere they have faced off, and usually by double digits. Every theory Sanders had about the race — that he could mobilize white working-class voters to support him and that he would bring new voters to the polls — has been proven wrong.
The view of the party rank and file has been unambiguous: they want Joe. Indeed, a good part of the reason for Biden’s Lazarus-like rise, after poor showings in the early primary states, was widespread fear, among Democrats, of Sanders being the party standard bearer. Sorry Bernie, it wasn’t the establishment blocking your path — it was you.
Yet, Sanders trudges on, convinced that he has a “narrow path” to win the nomination. Forget for a moment that he would need to win approximately 59 percent of the vote in the remaining primaries to prevail. Is there even one state where Sanders can realistically beat Biden? Next week, voters in Wisconsin will cast ballots in the state’s primary. Sanders beat Clinton there four years ago by 13 points. The latest polls have him trailing Biden by 15 points. Will he drop out if he can’t even win there? Ha!
Sanders appears to be holding out hope that if for some reason Biden falters or falls ill the party will turn to him. Don’t count on it.
As one Democratic campaign pro jokingly said to me, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a better chance of being the Democratic nominee than Bernie Sanders — and he’s not even running.
Sanders has suggested he is sticking it out for policy reasons. “Campaigns are an important way to maintain that fight and raise public consciousness on . . . issues," he’s said.
Sanders wants Biden to persuade him to drop out by making “significant policy and personal overtures," a person close to Sanders told the Washington Post. Putting aside the question of why Biden should make any concessions to his vanquished rival, maybe it’s worth asking if the guy who has come up short in two straight primary elections should be the one making demands. Frankly, what policy issue could possibly be more important than uniting the Democratic Party behind the urgent task of defeating President Trump?
The longer that Sanders continues his ego-driven campaign the more ill will he will spread. Continuing this feckless endeavor will only further marginalize Sanders — and the issues he is advocating for — in the eyes of Democrats.
While Sanders likes to claim that he’s no longer attacking Biden, that’s only partially true. In the last debate he didn’t hesitate to claim that Biden once tried to cut Social Security. Even now his national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray — who declared that she voted for Jill Stein in 2016 — is suggesting that Biden is “allowing bigotry and misinformation” into the Democratic Party because a campaign surrogate tweeted an article critical of Sanders.
This has become a tired and predictable game with Sanders: He claims to take the high road while his unbowed cheerleaders remain in attack mode. On social media the Vermont senator’s surrogates and more militant supporters continue to lacerate Biden for his verbal miscues and darkly suggest he is in cognitive decline. It was the same four years ago. When he announced his candidacy in 2015 he pledged that it would be “driven by issues and serious debate . . . not reckless personal attacks or character assassination.” A year later he was calling Clinton a tool of “big moneyed interests.”
Sanders could demand that these attacks stop. Dropping out of the race would certainly reduce intra-party tensions. But he hasn’t and he won’t. It’s apparent now, as it was apparent four years ago, that he doesn’t care about the consequences of continuing a race he cannot win. For a candidate who proudly wears his ideological consistency on his sleeve, the one true constant in his presidential campaigns has been a desperate ambition to be president. Even a pandemic — and the potential of weakening Biden by continuing his campaign — doesn’t give him pause.
Four years ago, I wrote that “Sanders’ campaign has devolved into an angry, pointless, and ego-driven campaign, more interested in promoting Sanders for president than the issues for which he claims to care so deeply.” Four years later, nothing has changed.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.