By this time tomorrow, Bernie Sanders may have dropped out of the presidential race. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Sanders was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s sparring partner. The idea was that he would condition her for the real race against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or some other Republican dinosaur, as seen in the Democratic strategy playbook. Instead, it turns out the sparring partner wanted to become the “heavyweight champeen of the world.” Defying expectations, Sanders evidently believes he can float like a butterfly – or, more likely, sting like a bee – all the way to the Democratic National Convention floor.
Last night, The Associated Press elated the Clinton camp by declaring the race over. The news agency where I once worked, which has been polling Democratic Party superdelegates since before the primaries began, reported that enough of those formally uncommitted delegates have promised to support Clinton to give her the nomination regardless of what happens in today’s balloting.
Even more good news for Clinton can be found in polling data that gives her a strong chance of winning California today, while it is considered a near certainty that she will win New Jersey. Her supporters will loudly demand that Sanders throw in the towel once votes are counted tonight. Still, barring an improbable collapse in Sanders’ support, her overall delegate lead will most likely be less than the number of super delegates who are free to change their minds at any time before they cast their ballots at the convention.
Besides pointing out that super delegates, like ringside judges, do not need to cast their ballots until the competition is over, Sanders can also argue that Clinton’s much-ballyhooed margin of victory in the Democratic primary vote came almost entirely from Southern states that Democrats do not expect to carry in November. Even there, it came mostly from the African-American voters in those states, a demographic in which the problem of underwhelming Democratic voter turnout is especially pronounced. Removing states any Democrat is unlikely to win this fall and focusing on the states the party must carry in order to retain the White House, Sanders can claim at least as strong a performance as Clinton.
Moreover, in the more than 40 years he has held public office, Sanders has never been accused of using his position to enrich himself or to amass greater personal power. Clinton, on the other hand, is a whole closetful of shoes waiting to drop, even as her friends in the Obama administration try to slow walk the inquiries into her homebrew server, bury the facts about the Benghazi debacle and obfuscate the source of their own lies regarding the backchannel Iran deal that originated during her time as the head of the State Department. Clinton is, if not one scandal, then one indictment away from blowing up the Democrats’ chances this November.
That being the case, is Sanders really going to give up and leave the title to someone who wins only because the judges supposedly marked their cards in her favor before the bell even rang?
My guess is no. For one thing, his rhetoric supports the idea that he is planning to hang on until the very end of the process. At a press conference in Los Angeles last weekend, he reminded his supporters: “At the end of the nominating process, no candidate will have enough pledged delegates to call the campaign a victory. That will be dependent upon super delegates. In other words, the Democratic National Convention will be a contested convention.” Many of his supporters have taken to wearing “Bernie or Bust” buttons to express their determination to see the process through to the very end.
Sanders has no more incentive to leave the race now than a boxer would have to toss in the towel after the bell rings to end the final round. He has nothing to lose by staying in the contest until the votes are cast on the convention floor. Something may happen between now and then, leading the superdelegates to change their minds. If not, Sanders will force them to own up to backing Clinton, come what may.
Sparring partners are instantly forgotten, while champions are remembered forever in the history books. I don’t think Sanders came this far just to abandon the ring and leave all the glory and legacy to an opponent who started the contest with most of the judges eager to jump into her pocket.