BOSTON (CBS) – He should have called it quits at the end of the final debate with Joe Biden on March 15, a perfect moment to promote his agenda one last time before graciously doing the right thing and endorsing the presumptive nominee.
But while this campaign underscored some of Bernie Sanders’ political gifts – a passion for long-held populist beliefs and an uncanny ability to inspire grassroots donations – it also exposed some glaring flaws.
Sanders proved he didn’t know how to win after he emerged from the February 22 Nevada caucuses as the front runner and proceeded to scare the daylights out of scores of primary voters for whom ability to beat Donald Trump was the overriding concern. A party nominee’s job is to bring as many skeptics of his or her candidacy as possible into the fold. Sanders couldn’t do it, with blacks, suburban women, or anyone else.
In the end, he couldn’t even unite the left, underscored by Elizabeth Warren’s refusal to endorse him after she dropped out and the gravitation of so many of her former supporters to Biden.
And for the second time in four years he proved he didn’t know how to lose very well either. If the 24 days of denial of the inevitable produced anything positive for Sanders or his “movement,” it’s not visible to the naked eye.
“This race has never been about me,” Sanders said in his exit speech, and perhaps that’s true of the man and some of his followers. But more than one in ten of his supporters voted for Trump four years ago; 15 percent of them this time around say they’ll do the same this fall, despite Trump’s jaw-dropping negligence in handling the pandemic.
These aren’t people rallying behind a set of ideas – they’re cult followers, obsessed with a politician and programmed to seek revenge on critics of their deity.
In his farewell remarks, Sanders repeated his perennial claim that he has transformed the political debate and elevated sweeping policy changes like Medicare for All to the brink of success. We’ll see. A case can be made that MFA flopped in the Democratic race, torpedoing Warren’s candidacy and fueling doubts about Bernie’s electability.
The latest polling on MFA for the Kaiser Family Foundation concludes that “while the general idea of a national health plan (whether accomplished through an expansion of Medicare or some other way) may enjoy fairly broad support in the abstract, it remains unclear how this issue will play out in the 2020 election and beyond.”
And when Sanders says he hopes to keep accumulating delegates so he can “exert influence” on the party platform at the national convention that may never happen, you wonder what’s he’s smoking. No one serious cares about what’s in the party platform.
And Sanders isn’t even a Democrat.
Sanders’ two runs for the presidency have been impressive displays of stamina and ideological fervor. His unprecedented small-dollar online fundraising is a model both parties can only hope to copy. And if he works his heart out to get that wayward 15% back into the Biden fold come November, he’ll be a hero to all appalled at the prospect of a second Trump term.
But he’ll be well into his eighties by the time the 2024 race cranks up. If he’s running again then, it probably means the 15% did defect after all, and that will surely be held against Sanders.
Chances are we’ve seen the last moments of sustained national prominence for Bernie Sanders.
For some, that’s a tragedy.
For many others, it’s a relief.