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Why Bernie Sanders is staying in the race

REUTERS/John Sommers II
Sen. Bernie Sanders addressing a crowd during a campaign rally at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday.

Writing for the New Yorker, John Cassidy supplies a list of what he considers four reasonable reasons that Bernie Sanders is staying in the race:

First, most of his supporters want him to keep going. Second, he still has a (very) slim chance of obtaining the nomination. Third, there isn’t much evidence that his dropping out would affect the result in November. And fourth, back in 2008, Clinton herself did something very similar to what Sanders is doing now, extending her primary contest with Barack Obama well beyond the point at which most commentators had concluded that she had no chance of winning.

The first two strike me as eminently reasonable.

On the third, I’m sure some Hillary Clinton partisans believe Sanders is hurting Clinton by postponing the moment when she can begin to “pivot toward the center” as the saying usually goes, to assume the profile she wants to use in the fall campaign. Strategically, I don’t know about that and I don’t really care. But I’ve always wanted to say how much I dislike that meme, which we hear every four years about every candidate and we’re now starting to hear even about Donald Trump.

We are just supposed to embrace the notion that a candidate will change their emphasis and even tweak their positions, which to me looks like either pretending to be more moderate or admitting that you’ve been pretending to be more liberal than you are (or, when a Republican does it, more conservative). Shouldn’t that bother us on some kind of 19th-century standard of actually standing for something?

As for Cassidy’s fourth reason, it isn’t really a reason for Sanders to justify staying in. It’s more a reason that Clinton can’t get too upset, at least not publicly, since she did the same thing under somewhat similar circumstances to Obama.

If I had written a similar piece, I would have had a different fourth reason, only it might have been my first. Sanders openly acknowledges that his candidacy is intended to build a movement of young progressives for the long run, built around all the issue positions and critiques of politics as usual that he’s talked about all year, designed to keep these kids motivated for the long run. As far as I can tell, he has indeed expanded the range of thinkable thoughts in American politics.

Now, it’s true that Sanders isn’t saying anything these days we haven’t heard from him a million times, or is it two million? But if there was a rule in politics that you can’t keep saying the same thing over and over again, the system would collapse, the world would collapse, and we’d all have more time to binge-watch on Amazon, or wherever the cool kids are binge-watching these days.

Comments (34)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/06/2016 - 09:42 am.

    Thank Eric

    “If I had written a similar piece, I would have had a different fourth reason, only it might have been my first. Sanders openly acknowledges that his candidacy is intended to build a movement of young progressives for the long run, built around all the issue positions and critiques of politics as usual that he’s talked about all year, designed to keep these kids motivated for the long run. As far as I can tell, he has indeed expanded the range of thinkable thoughts in American politics.”

    Actually I think aside from his slim chance of actually winning the nomination I think this is most significant reason, it’s why his supporters want him to stay in. I don’t think Sanders or many of hist supporters actually think they can push Clinton to the left, she’ll tack to the left during the campaign and then return to station if elected. The idea is to make the democratic party a liberal party by repopulating it with liberal candidates who (hopefully) will be inspired by the Sanders campaign. It’s a long game looking well beyond next November.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 05/06/2016 - 10:32 am.

      Not only that

      Bernie’s election results give those candidates hard data on what districts they can win. They need to identify districts across the country that are friendly to Bernie, find candidates with views similar to Bernie and run them with Bernie’s support.

    • Submitted by Charles Holtman on 05/06/2016 - 10:36 am.

      What Paul said.

      The obtuseness of the establishment punditry and Ms. Clinton’s supporters alike as to the thinking of Sanders supporters is astonishing. It has nothing to do with “free stuff” and unicorns; it doesn’t rest on a delusion that Mr. Sanders would hypnotize Congress into enacting his platform; and it isn’t blind to the certainty that whatever Ms. Clinton says during the campaign, as President she will snap right back to a center-right economic, foreign policy and national security platform. It’s all about building an engaged progressive coalition for the future, pushing against the left side of the Overton window, and the long game in general.

      The leftist view (structural reform to create equal economic and political opportunity, diminish centralized control of the social discourse, create the basis for a critically thinking citizenry and hence the possibility of democracy, and allow movement away from a suicidal growth-based/fossil fuel economy) is effectively excluded from the mainstream discourse because it aims directly at the prerogatives and perverse social incentives of concentrated private power. Sanders has gained a national stage to express positions that, if they do not quite get there, at least help to press open the Overton window a bit further so that if most folks still are not exposed to a leftist platform, at least they can start to perceive it in the distance. So long as he has that stage, he should keep it and use it.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/06/2016 - 10:09 am.

    The real reason

    Sanders doesn’t want to cede the nomination to Biden by default when Hillary drops out. He’ll make the argument that he’s earned the nomination and Biden hasn’t.

  3. Submitted by Jim Million on 05/06/2016 - 10:19 am.

    Saturation Advertising

    This is the market term for what you attribute to Bernie Sanders. He has targeted his consumer and stays on point with respect to motivating that potential buyer. Smart way to initially build a niche market by repeated and narrowly focused messaging.

    The purpose is to initially “push” the product to a receptive market segment, hoping to grow sales over time to a dependable revenue stream of repeated purchases, ultimately extending sales outward. The key is to keep it simple and directed until that market base grows outward. Then, other items may be successfully added more quickly and effectively to the overall line with “pull through” strategies.

    Best contemporary example in mind here: Oxiclean.
    Consider how that grew from infomercial to now being a key ingredient in many other products on the shelf.
    Isn’t this the marketing plan of Sanders and financial backers? I think he and his developers will now work on building share.

    Let’s watch to see if the coming “pull through” phase expands his market.
    The plan has worked incredibly well to date.

  4. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/06/2016 - 10:39 am.

    Yes, we’re supposed to swallow it whole.

    “We are just supposed to embrace the notion that a candidate will change their emphasis and even tweak their positions, which to me looks like either pretending to be more moderate or admitting that you’ve been pretending to be more liberal than you are (or, when a Republican does it, more conservative). Shouldn’t that bother us on some kind of 19th-century standard of actually standing for something?”

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/06/2016 - 10:52 am.

    A fifth reason?

    I’ve watched Sanders over recent weeks and months as it became more and more likely that he would not capture the nomination. As that happened, I saw him become more and more the typical candidate chasing not an ideal but the position. At this point, I view him not as Don Quixote but as a 21st century Huey Long, hungry for power.

    The issues he’s raised are nothing new, certainly not within the left wing of the Democratic party. The exposure and support they’ve received beyond that wing during his campaign are. Universal health care was called for almost a century ago. ( I have a Stars and Stripes magazine from June, 1945, in which it is called for by a returning veteran.) Increasing the minimum wage has been a steady drumbeat for decades.

    Credit where credit is due: Sanders has raised the visibility of these and other ideas. It remains to be seen whether that results in any change in our laws.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/06/2016 - 11:21 am.


      I loathe Sanders, who is has always been fundamentally dishonest, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but Sanders has morphed into to something that barely resembles what he originally claimed to be. His rallies are becoming more and more like Trump rallies – when speakers are calling Clinton a liar and a whore and media members covering events are being harassed, I’m not really seeing much progressivism.

      Clinton is going to be the nominee. And the differences between Sanders and Clinton are miniscule compared to those between Clinton and Trump. Every dollar Sanders and Clinton spend in the already-decided primary fight is a dollar that won’t go to fighting Trump or electing other Democrats. Every person that buys into Sanders’ stream of bile and lies about superdelegates and delegate math is a person less likely to be part of the real fight in the fall. The right-wing memes I see on Facebook aren’t from my Republican friends – they are from Sanders supporters.

      If Sanders really cared about his agenda, really cared about working people, he would drop out or at least tone down his negative campaigning. I fear that his out-of-control ego and lack of integrity will rule the day.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/06/2016 - 12:26 pm.

        I Really Get A Kick Out of This

        The thought that in the last few months Bernie has become some sort of sell out.

        Maybe because I never saw him as pure as the driven snow hero riding in to rescue us, I don’t see his selling out to The Man, or fame or whatever. I always saw him as a guy with views similar to my own; ideas that the Democratic party at one time championed, at least before they shed the Red Wing work boots in favor a pair of Guccis.

        • Submitted by Jim Million on 05/06/2016 - 09:04 pm.


          Concisely said. He’s over 70! Why would he sell out to anyone? The message massage therapists of the DNC should be acutely observant awhile longer, certainly not dismissive.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/06/2016 - 10:59 am.

    After 20 years in Congress

    as an Independent preaching in the wilderness, Bernie has found out that he enjoys the spotlight.
    As long as he can control a block of voters, he’s got six months more of fame.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/06/2016 - 11:06 am.

    And I would add…

    That this movement Sanders and his supporters are talking about IS the future of the American political landscape. The republican delusion is finally crashing and the fact that both parties are about to push their most unpopular and distrusted candidates into the ballot tells us that neo-liberalism and the status quo have become unsustainable. The rebellion we’re seeing among the electorate on the left and the right isn’t going to fade with the election of either Clinton or Trump.

    The fact is the only people in this election that are actually appealing to the American voter and offering concrete off the shelf solutions are Sanders and his supporters. Unless you think big long walls and misogyny are what American’s have been dreaming about for the last 30 years.

    From economics to the environment initiatives that have been languishing in leftist magazines for decades are going to get a hearing, and don’t think the establishment on either side of the isle is going to be able to stop that this time.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/06/2016 - 12:49 pm.

      Bernie’s problem

      is precisely that he does NOT offer concrete solutions.
      He offers end states (big banks ‘broken up’) but no specific plans on how to achieve them.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/06/2016 - 01:16 pm.

        Bernie’s specific plans vs. Clinton’s

        Bernie’s plan to break up the banks is not a mystery. Congress passes legislation limiting the size and scope of financial companies, and the President signs that legislation into law. This is the only way that it can be done, so asking for a more specific plan is like asking how a guy will make the sun rise.

        Meanwhile, Clinton isn’t even offering an agenda, much less a plan. Clinton will I’m sure, just give them banks a good talking to! if need be.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/06/2016 - 02:54 pm.

          This is not a plan

          First of all, the biggest problem is not banks, it’s the new financial operations floating hedge funds and the like. The best precedent for legislation would be TR’s trust busting, but we are not talking about monopolies here. Breaking up a few large banks would have little effect.
          So, based on 20 years in Congress, what sort of legislation has Bernie proposed that would pass Constitutional muster? Or like Trump does he think that he can do it all by executive fiat?

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/06/2016 - 05:16 pm.

            It’s really disappointing…

            To see so called Clinton liberals resort the same mental gymnastic we’ve been getting from conservatives and republicans for decades. I explain the plan push legislation and Paul want’s to know Bernie thinks he can use executive fiat? You say it can’t be done because you say it can’t be done, that’s circular reasoning pretending to be political wisdom. The Fed itself just declared that several banks will have to be sliced up by 2018 under current law because they remain too big to fail, yet we’re told banks can’t be busted, laws can’t be passed, and banks aren’t the problem. Whatever.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/06/2016 - 08:09 pm.

              My point is

              that the problem is not banks.
              It’s other financial institutions not subject to the same regulations as banks.
              That means a substantial overhaul of the laws regulating financial institutions.
              In your words, laws have to be passed, which requires action by the legislative branch of government.

              • Submitted by Matt Haas on 05/06/2016 - 10:36 pm.

                Which, let me guess

                You’ve given up any hope of ever taking back. So in a nutshell, the establishment position is, ” All we can hope for is the Presidency, where the main goal will be to block the Legislature to ensure things don’t get worse. Any real progress will come in the former of executive order, never mind the fact we expressed nothing but disgust for such tactics during the Bush administration” Sorry if that isn’t found to be very inspiring for those who would like to see meaningful progress while it still makes some difference in their lifetime.

                • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/07/2016 - 10:39 am.

                  Poor guess

                  My point is that we need new laws to effectively regulate new financial operations.
                  This requires BOTH the legislature to enact the laws and the executive to enforce them.
                  Congressional inaction (and we know who’s to blame) has left Obama trying to push current laws to their limit to deal with situations they were not intended to cover.

          • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 05/06/2016 - 08:38 pm.


            Perhaps Bernie has not mentioned it by name (although I think he has) but I assume he’s referring to restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act which was repealed during the Clinton Presidency. The original Glass-Steagall Act forced the divestiture of “investment banks” from depository institutions.

            I’d add that when Bernie refers to “banks” I don’t think he’s referring only to depository institutions that accept deposits and make loans but all firms offering “financial service” or “financial products” that have been called “too big to fail.” I take this to include “bank holding companies” like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan (which became bank holding companies after the bailout). Bank holding companies are really financial conglomerates that provide all sorts of the newfangled “financial products” and services and probably hedge funds too.

            What exactly is a “hedge fund” anyway? Maybe something that calls itself a “hedge fund” is really a “bank” that if it failed would drag down the rest of the economy with it. AIG is (was?) supposedly an insurance company but its subsidiary “AIG Financial Products” was one of the entities which also played a big role in te 2008 meltdown with its overextension in credit default swaps. A credit default swap is a financial product that functions as a sort of hedge or, some might say, a form of insurance.

            Who can say what is a bank and what’s not anymore? How many of is have any personal experience dealing with the hodge-podge of so-called “financial services” or “financial products” that drives Wall Street? For Bernie’s purposes and his audience of actual human beings who do not lurk in the dark corridors of high finance, “bank” is as good a term as any for the whole lot.

  8. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/06/2016 - 02:32 pm.

    Whether Bernie Has Lasting Influence

    does not depend in the least on whether he stays in the race, now.

    It DOES depend on whether he’s willing and able to organize all those fresh-faced youngsters,…

    and those freshly-enthusiastic oldsters,…

    into putting in the time and energy required to STAY involved,…

    at the local organizing level (in Minnesota, Precinct Caucuses),…

    even in OFF years,…

    and whether his followers are willing to be organized by him and his organization.

    Will his followers run for local school boards, city councils and county boards?

    Will Bernie be able to organize liberal academics, liberal pundits, and liberal clergy,…

    into making a good deal more noise?

    Will he organize think tanks and lobbying groups to counter the B.S. constantly spewed by “conservatives” in those positions,…

    which will require a great deal of fundraising?

    Will Bernie and his followers be able to come up with a rationale for why letting those with the most means control our nation’s economy and our political system,…

    is rapidly bringing us to ruin,…

    and will NEVER be able to do anything else,…

    a rationale which will convince the general public, media, and even a fair number of those at the top of the economic ladder?

    If, after the Democratic convention, Bernie’s and his supporters do NONE of those things,…

    but just take their marbles and go home because they lost,…

    and Bernie just allows himself to fade back into obscurity,…

    Bernie’s candidacy will have no more lasting meaning that those of George McGovern or Eugene McCarthy,…

    which would be tragic, but exactly what I’m expecting (sadly),…

    which is why I’ve never been able to support Bernie.

    He’s just a “pied piper,”…

    when what we needed was a true coalition builder who could and would already have worked to do the things I’ve described over so many years in politics.

  9. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/06/2016 - 03:35 pm.


    At the end of the day, at the convention, the party has to unify behind one candidate. It is reasonable to expect Hillary and Bernie to make that happen. If it happens, Bernie’s progressive ideas will be reflected in the next administration. If not, we get Trump and progressive thinking will be derailed, perhaps permanently. A Democratic presidential landslide would clean house of many of the Republican obstructionists in the Congress and force conservatives to get their act together. It really is up to Bernie and his supporters about what they are really trying to achieve. Failure to unify gave us Richard Nixon and George W. Bush – if we get Trump, it might be three strikes and you are out for the American dream. Bernie does not want Trump as his legacy.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/06/2016 - 05:09 pm.

      This is the democratic delusion…

      It wasn’t failure to unify, that gave us Nixon, Bush, etc. it was a failure to run the most effective candidates, which is exactly what’s happening now. Democrats don’t seem to realize that you can’t run the most distrusted, divisive, un-liked, and unpopular candidate you have, and expect to win. Even if the party unifies, the party doesn’t have enough votes to put Clinton in the White House… So you’re back to your candidate. And you’ll notice that everyone with low expectations gravitates towards Clinton. People don’t vote for parties in this country, they vote for candidates, and frankly, that has very little to do with what happens at party conventions.

      Not only that, but democrats are still deluding themselves that liberals and progressives with vote blue despite democrats consistently and instinctively keeping liberal initiatives off the table.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 05/06/2016 - 09:09 pm.

      With respect:

      I really do not believe there is an “end to the day” in any global 24/7 information cycle.

  10. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 05/06/2016 - 07:58 pm.

    I agree with Mr. Black: Sanders has “expanded the range of thinkable thoughts in American politics.” I just think that is very bad for America because going against human nature and economic laws will bring a disaster.

    Mr. Holtman, will you please explain some “leftist views,” as you called them, to me. What prevents “equal economic and political opportunity” now (you said opportunity, not outcome)? How are the left going to “diminish centralized control” (I always thought they want to increase it for the greater good)? And how is critical thinking being developed now on college campuses when students demand “safe zones” and can’t tolerate an opposing view?

    Mr. Terry, in your mind, was it a good idea for Sanders to run to begin with?

    Mr. Udstrand, can you please explain how Sanders’ plans are more realistic than Trump’s? I mean Trump will have Republican Congress; what will Sanders have to pass any of his proposed laws?

  11. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/06/2016 - 08:43 pm.

    On reason 3

    We should be fed up with the ‘pivot to center’. I think that goes a long way towards explaining how we had concurrent senators Wellstone and Grams, while Coleman only lasted one term. It’s easier to support someone who is passionate about their convictions, even if you don’t entirely agree, than to vote for someone who says what they think you want to hear.

  12. Submitted by Jim Million on 05/06/2016 - 09:31 pm.

    I believe…

    Bernie Sanders has extended the range and legitimacy of speakable thoughts in American politics.
    Isn’t it interesting that Democrats to his right wish to not acknowledge similar “thinkable thoughts?”

    Let’s see if Sanders and friends make a significant ruckus at the Convention. He will bring delegates who certainly could be troublesome in terms of appearance if not leverage. We shouldn’t expect him and them to muffle their voices. Why not make one big televised protest of the inevitable? If he folds before then, we should seriously doubt his future significance.

  13. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/06/2016 - 11:44 pm.

    The real reason?It’s never

    The real reason?

    It’s never really been his party. No ties, past, present, or future to consider.

    So why not ?

    If Trump wins, it just speeds the plow.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/08/2016 - 10:54 am.

    About that republican congress…

    Actually, I think the republicans are facing a huge backlash even if Trump were to win the presidency. I think the Senate can easily change hands and it wouldn’t surprise me if the house either falls or nearly falls. If Trump does get elected, the republican congress is certainly doomed because Trump will find it easier to work with democrats than republicans and the republican party will continue to disintegrate. So even if Trump doesn’t bring a change of power with him this November, that change becomes inevitable.

    Likewise with Clinton or Sanders, Congress will fall to the democrats eventually either because voters want and end to obstructionism, or they simply can’t turn out for all the toxic personalities and incompetence that will continue to emerge from the republican party.

    The biggest mistake Clinton supporters are making is this assumption that the November election in and of itself makes or breaks the entire presidency and that nothing changes for the next 8 years. That a stupid and ignorant assumption frankly. No party controls congress indefinitely. The other mistake democrats make is in assuming that control of congress is determined by their “downstream” activism rather than the mood or sentiments of the voters. Democrats seem to assume that they ignore the voters and win elections through the sheer power of party activism… they should know better but many just can’t think outside their party mentality.

    I don’t know any Sanders supporters who assume that Sanders will start out with a democratic congress, (although its more likely to switch hands with Sanders as the candidate) but we think Sanders will finish with a democratic congress in the end. He’s proposing wildly popular agendas and the odds are that voters will punish those who block those agendas as the years go by. Whereas with Clinton, it will all be about Clinton and her divisive nature may prevent the emergence of effective progressive coalitions. Sanders will put liberal agendas that unite and inspire on the table… Clinton will work to keep those agenda’s off the table.

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