“I wish I could give you better news, but I think you know the truth. The path to victory is virtually impossible.” With these words, Bernie Sanders has abandoned his presidential bid after losing the Democratic primary for the second time in four years. It is the closest a socialist has ever been to being the president of the United States in more than a century, and it cannot be said that he has been close, close. Although, for a moment, it seemed.
Just two months ago, I signed around here that Bernie Sanders was “hands down the favorite,” and it was true. It came from doing well all that a candidate has to do well: a solid tie in the Iowa caucuses, a close victory in New Hampshire, and a devastating victory in Nevada. Even when Joe Biden was resurrected and relegated to a distant second in South Carolina, it didn’t seem that serious. But then something happened that Sanders hadn’t counted on: he’d done too well. And that was going to cost him victory.
The moderate conspiracy
That night, on February 29, Bernie Sanders went to bed as the leader of the Democratic primary. There were three days left for the crucial Super Tuesday in which much of the matter was decided, but behind the scenes, a movement was beginning to forge that would bury his candidacy. Until that time, Sanders had benefited from the fact that the “left-wing” of the Democratic party had only two candidates: he and Elizabeth Warren. In addition to beating the senator, it was a distinct advantage that the party’s “centrist wing” was much more divided: Biden had been resurrected, but Buttigieg had won in Iowa, Amy Klobuchar was still alive, and millionaire Michael Bloomberg was spending as crazy.
All those centrists wanted to be presidents, but there was something they wanted even more: to prevent Bernie Sanders from being president at all costs. In the last debate, they shared, they all attacked the senator, blaming him in advance for a new Trump victory, but what happened offstage was more interesting. Within hours of opening the polls at Super Tuesday, the two best-performing centrist candidates so far, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, withdrew and supported Biden. It was an unusual but politically very active movement. The “centrist wing” was very afraid of Sanders’s victory and knew that dividing his electorate would not prevent it. Clustering the moderate vote, former Vice President Joe Biden managed that night loose and decisive victory. He became the favorite.
After Super Tuesday, Sanders still had a chance. The last remaining centrist candidate other than Biden, Michael Bloomberg, retired to support the former vice president. The other leftist candidate, Warren, also surrendered but refused to support Sanders publicly. The rest is history: Biden opened an advantage that was impossible to recover, and with the arrival of the coronavirus, it has become tough for the campaign. Still, for me, the lesson is obvious: the moderates knew how to see the risk and soon joined forces. The left, no.
And now that?
In that message announcing his “tough and painful decision,” Bernie Sanders congratulates Joe Biden, “a very decent man with whom I will work to advance our progressive ideas.” He also clarifies that he will keep his delegates at the Democratic convention to influence the elaboration of the party’s program, but he does not seem to have much interest in an internal war when he assures that “together, united, we will defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in history modern America. “
Joe Biden also had good words for his rival on the day of his retirement: “Bernie has done something unusual in politics. He has not only had a campaign; he has created a movement.” It’s not just courtesy: Biden knows perfectly well that he needs to unite the party between now and November to defeat Trump. She is also aware that she has to convince millions of young people who are passionate about Bernie. Almost none will ever vote for Trump, but perhaps they would consider staying home on Election Day or supporting a hopeless left-wing candidate like Jill Stein’s Greens four years ago. It is a deadly risk to Obama’s former vice president.
Bernie Sanders has indeed created a movement. An almost 80-year-old man has inspired an entire generation and made specific ideas that were once only seriously discussed in Brooklyn cafes now become the center of the debate: universal public health, public daycare, the green economy. Democratic voters have not rejected those ideas so much as the possibility that a more left-wing candidacy means more options of losing again to Trump. Whether or not they are right, they have voted for an option they consider “safer” and more conventional, with their minds set on the November generals. Time will tell if they chose well.