US Letter: Time is right for Sanders to concede to Clinton
The Vermont senator has led a revolution and will not lose face by admitting defeat
Bernie Sanders: Vermont senator ran an astonishing campaign, brilliant in fact, in the Democratic presidential primary. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Bernie Sanders is like that guest at a party who has, over the course of the night, dominated the discussion and made some very good points, almost all of which you agree with, but it’s late and you just wish he would stop talking and call a cab.
The Vermont senator ran an astonishing campaign, brilliant in fact, in the Democratic presidential primary. He came from nowhere – for years a socialist independent gadfly in the US senate – to lead a grassroots movement of millions of young American progressives, a “political revolution”, as he liked to call it at rally after rally.
His proposals to introduce free universal healthcare and free college education, to reform a campaign finance system rigged in favour of big donors, to overhaul the Wall Street banks and to restore social, economic and racial equality are hardly radical in a western European context but in the US his policies amounted to socialism. His campaign made the “S-word” acceptable again to a whole new generation of voters.
The popularity of his message was reflected in the money that filled his campaign coffers. He raised more than $200 million (€178 million) in more than eight million contributions from almost three million people at an average rate of $27 – a figure he turned into a catchphrase to sum up the bottom-up support that he had for his campaign.
Only Donald Trump could rival Sanders for the excitement he could generate at his political rallies. His final public event – in the gym of a university in a Des Moines suburb the day before the Iowa caucuses in late January – sticks in the memory as the young and old, but particularly the young, cheered on the 74-year-old senator wearing “Feel The Bern” T-shirts. It was inspiring to see and restored faith in a political process that, as Sanders rightly argued, is heavily stacked in favour of the establishment.
But Sanders has lost.
Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in the District of Columbia, the final contest in the party’s presidential nominating process, this week. The victory left her with 2,219 pledged delegates from state primaries and caucuses. With her 581 super-delegates representing the Democratic Party’s top brass, this gave her a total of 2,800 delegates, well in excess of the 2,383 delegates she needed.
Sanders emerged from the primary with a highly respectable 1,881 delegates. Even the argument that the system is weighted against him, with super-delegates choosing Clinton long before the people voted, has been undermined by the fact that the former US secretary of state would have enough super-delegates – elected local and state officials – to win even if they were awarded based on votes in their states.
Sanders’s campaign certainly rattled the establishment and raised doubts around the negative view many hold of Clinton but his only real upset was his victory in Michigan. Clinton won most of the south comprehensively and secured big wins in the states that count: California, Florida, Ohio, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania.
In the popular vote, Clinton beat Sanders by 16.5 million votes to 12.7 million.
Now, of course, the challenge for Clinton heading into the presidential election battle against Trump is to win over those 12.7 million people to her cause and for Sanders to help her.
In an address to his supporters streamed live online on Thursday night, Sanders promised to work with Clinton to defeat Trump but, surprisingly, did not concede defeat to his rival (despite her decisive victory) or endorse the presumptive Democratic nominee.
“The major political task that together we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly, and I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time,” he said.
The address then turned into his standard stump speech as he pushed his followers to run for local office in a bid to continue the “revolution”.
Buoyed by the support he has, Sanders is refusing to let go of the wind at his back and wants to bring his campaign message to the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia, starting on July 28th, to create the “most progressive” party platform.
At this stage, Sanders should look beyond solidifying his legacy and concentrate on the general election fight, strengthening Clinton’s hand against Trump, rather than weakening it by extending the primary into a fight that is no longer about votes but issues.
Given the success of his 14-month campaign in a bruising primary, he can exit the race gracefully and not lose face by endorsing Clinton, knowing he has won a victory of sorts.
He can call that cab knowing that he has made a vital contribution at the party.