What Should Bernie Do Now?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

With Hillary Clinton now the clear presumptive nominee, should Sanders finally step aside and end his campaign, or should he continue forward into the convention in late July? This reader, Dan, “a Bernie supporter who also thinks Hillary could be a good president,” thinks Sanders should stay in the race:

Bernie certainly shouldn’t go negative on Hillary, BUT—here are two reasons for him to remain:

1) Bernie deserves influence on the VP pick and the platform. A Clinton/Warren ticket looks very different from Clinton/Tim Kaine, and a platform based on progressive principles (that Hillary herself has espoused at various times in her career) is very different from a neoliberal Bill Clinton platform.

2) He’s a viable backup if Hillary gets indicted (fairly or otherwise). Far better to drop Bernie in when he got 45% of the vote than, say, Joe Biden (who didn’t get a single vote). I’m sure the indictment would be highly politically motivated, but we don’t want to be fighting one during a campaign!

Reader David adds more generally, “The longer Bernie stays in the race, the more likely it is that his movement will endure and make a lasting impact on the Democrats.” That lasting impact could be at the state-legislature level, given Sanders’s fundraising focus there, as Clare recently reported.

Another Sanders supporter, Robert Henry Eller—the reader who rebutted a pro-Clinton reader yesterday evening—expands on the idea of Sanders staying in the race to shape the party platform:

I don’t think it is very likely that Sanders will get the nomination. Nonetheless, I think it is correct and important for him to stay in the race into the nominating convention. I am more committed to the platform than to the candidate, and I believe Sanders feels the same way. I want to see Sanders’ platform impact the Democratic platform as much as possible.

The Democrats will continue to hemorrhage legislative, executive, and judicial power and influence at both the federal and state levels if they continue on the DLC/Third Way/Republican-lite path they’ve been on since at least 1992. But more importantly, Sanders’ platform is what the U.S. needs to return to a healthy economic and political climate.

And this is a Capitalist talking. (I was even an Ayn Rand capitalist as a teenager. I am now 67. I am aware of no author more misunderstood and distorted by self-styled opponents and proponents as Rand.) I support Sanders precisely because I am a Capitalist, and because I am thoroughly convinced that his socialist democracy platform planks are essential to the health of a capitalist system. It is sadly ignored that socialist democracy is predicated on the private ownership of the means of production—as opposed to democratic socialism, which even Sanders himself incorrectly identifies and associates with. Let’s say his presidential campaign is nothing but an extension of his lifelong campaign for socialist democratic moderations of capitalism—moderations that strengthen, not weaken, capitalism.

Frankly, I don’t expect Clinton's email “scandal” to blow up, nor do I expect an FBI indictment. For me, her weaknesses have nothing to do with such matters, except as they reflect on her judgement, which I find congenitally weak. I expect Clinton to win the nomination. I expect Sanders to aggressively oppose Trump, and so implicitly or explicitly, Sanders will support Clinton.

What troubles me is that I consider Clinton a weak candidate in the general election. I will certainly be happy if she beats Trump, even if I don’t entirely rule out the admittedly risky “value” of a Trump Presidency to possibly force both parties to reform (I’m not a nihilist). I’m glad that so many believe Clinton’s latest foreign policy speech was effective against Trump. But I’ve seen all the “experts” have been wrong about virtually everything during this election cycle, so I will not count out a Trump victory.

Partly because of polls, I do believe Sanders might be a stronger opponent of Trump than would Clinton be. I also believe Sanders would be a harder target for Trump. I certainly hope Trump might still debate Sanders, to give us some real data to see if this is true.

I remember that Al Gore “lost” the debates against George W. Bush, because Gore essentially forfeited the debates, refusing to actually debate W., because Gore apparently thought it was beneath him to even waste his energy and intellect. Because everyone expected W. to lose the debates to Gore, when Gore did not eviscerate W., W. was seen as the “winner” (i.e., he didn’t lose). I wonder what happens to Clinton in real time in a debate against Trump. Sanders, I suspect, could and would be less defensive, and more offensive, against Trump.

So, although I don’t expect Sanders to be nominated under any circumstances I actually anticipate, I absolutely believe he should continue to contest the nomination, and contest the platform. I think he’s doing all Americans a great service. I hope he continues to do so. And I hope Clinton, if she wins, will be a better president than I expect her to be.