Whether one agrees or disagrees with his platform, one cannot deny that Bernie Sanders has run a remarkable campaign. He has successfully pushed his rival Hillary Clinton—previously seen as immovable and the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee—to the left on an array of domestic issues, from immigration to the minimum wage. He has adeptly injected his concerns about income inequality and political corruption into the public discourse. And he has made this Jew and so many others proud through his forceful denunciation of the anti-Muslim prejudice that has too often found expression in this election.
But now it is time for Sanders to end his campaign for the same reason he started it: for the good of the country he has served for decades.
It is unspoken but understood that Sanders did not expect to win the Democratic nomination when he set out to run for it. Rather, he intended to shift the national debate in a direction that he hoped would improve America under a Clinton presidency. Sanders’s run was a protest candidacy more than a presidential candidacy. This in no way undermines its legitimacy. Indeed, under normal circumstances, Sanders would be absolutely entitled and justified to take his message all the way to the Democratic National Convention.
But these are not normal circumstances. Last night, even as Sanders won the Democratic primary in Indiana, so did Donald Trump, a man diametrically opposed to so much of what Sanders has stood for. Worse, Trump’s victory prompted his rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich to drop out, and led the Republican National Committee chairman to anoint the mogul as the party’s standard-bearer:
— Reince Priebus (@Reince) May 4, 2016
Just as the numbers now dictate that Trump will be his party’s nominee, they clearly demonstrate that Sanders will not. The Vermont Senator trails Hillary Clinton by large margins in overall votes, delegates and states won. As FiveThirtyEight found in an extensive historical and statistical analysis, “barring some catastrophic news event, Sanders will not win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. In fact, most past candidates in Sanders’s position dropped out long before this point in the race, and those who stayed in made little pretense of winning.” Clinton is projected by the site to easily win both New Jersey and California, which account for a whopping 688 delegates. This is a result that accords with the will of the Democratic electorate, which as Vox notes today, favors Clinton by a commanding 10 percent in the polls.
The upshot of the situation is this: every minute spent assailing Clinton in the primary is a minute spent not uniting the Democratic party to defeat Trump in the general. Every attack made by Sanders or his surrogates on Clinton is now simply an anti-Clinton ad for Republicans to repurpose and run in the fall. When Sanders backer Tim Robbins spreads conspiracy theories that Clinton is rigging the vote, or when speakers introducing Sanders at rallies tell voters not to “listen to the bullshit that the affordable health care act works,” they are not helping Bernie; they are helping Trump.
If Trump were a run-of-the-mill Republican candidate, this would still be a questionable reason for Sanders to unite behind Clinton before the convention. But Trump is not a run-of-the-mill candidate. He is a boor who has repeatedly failed to demonstrate even basic fluency in affairs of governance. He is a crass misogynist who has demeaned women for decades. He has stoked anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant prejudice for personal gain, retweeted white supremacists and anti-Semites into the mainstream, trafficked in absurd conspiracy theories about everyone from Muslims to his Republican rivals, encouraged violence at his rallies, and promised to commit war crimes if elected.
He must not be president of the United States. But more than that, he and his ideology and his supporters must be utterly discredited in the coming election. The ugly and disreputable ideas that Trump has laundered into the public discourse must be expunged back to the fringes from whence they came. Every opportunistic politician and voter must be shown unequivocally that Trumpism is an absolute electoral non-starter.
The only way this is going to happen is if the Democratic party and its mathematically inevitable standard-bearer decisively defeat Trump in November. And whether Sanders begins the task of rallying his skeptical supporters to Clinton’s banner now, or continues to assail and hobble her for months, will make a real difference in that outcome.
Sanders has repeatedly emphasized that “this campaign is not about me, it’s about you,” rallying supporters behind the slogan of “Not Me, Us.” Now it’s time for him to put that sentiment into practice, and place America before any personal ambitions. It would be an admirable end to an admirable campaign.