Bernie won’t go

Ego trumps all?

Bernie Sanders still has a mathematical chance to be the nominee of the Democratic Party. In fact, his chances are less than 1% according to the FiveThirtyEight model. This is typically the kind of chance that causes most candidates to cost-benefit themselves out of the contest. But, Bernie Sanders isn’t most candidates.

Via WaPo, Bernie Sanders says he’s staying in the presidential race. Many Democrats fear a reprise of their 2016 defeat.

Although Sanders has long pledged to do all he can to help the eventual nominee defeat President Trump, Democrats are still haunted by the last grueling battle, which didn’t end after it became clear that Clinton would be the nominee, and instead stretched into the summer convention and beyond. Then, as now, an impassioned band of Sanders supporters voiced their displeasure loudly and widely, sometimes echoing the harshest attacks of Trump and his allies with little reproach from Sanders.

[…]

Moved by an urgency to come together against Trump as the coronavirus pandemic has upended the presidential race, some party leaders feel that Sanders should end his campaign and help the Democratic Party position itself for the November general election.

And, of course, this is the part where I point out that institutional design matters. Specifically, the lack of control that major parties have over the control of their labels coupled with electoral rules that incentivize two-party competition (and, really, the synergy between the two).

For all the talk of “The Establishment,” the reality is that Sanders has all the power here in terms of staying in the race. The Democratic Party’s nomination process does not empower the party-as-institution to oust Sanders as a candidate. Indeed, the only place the party can act is through its convention process, so Sanders could actively campaign until that time, should he choose.

The electoral system creates a math problem wherein the answer to the question “how many major party candidates should run?” is basically two. The use of multi-member plurality voting (in all states but Maine and Nebraska)* with a requirement that the winner must receive an absolute majority of the electors creates a strong incentive for two large parties (although it does not guarantee that outcome).

Throw in a nomination system for each party that essentially invites all comers and you essentially guarantee a duopoly. Basically: the cost (and risk) of a major third party run far outweighs the benefit and opportunity presents by the open doors of the Republican and Democratic nomination processes.

Setting aside the institutional analysis, Sanders is just reinforcing the view that he is an extreme egotist who helps encourage his diehard followers to look to him and not to any broader goals. I get, in the abstract, that by staying in the race and insisting on a debate he is increasing exposure to his policy ideas. The more he gets to talk on a national stage, the greater the chances he can get his message out about MFA and other topics. However, there is a serious diminishing return problem here, especially in the current environment.

The Trump presidency alone creates its own kind of challenge that, at some point, requires anti-Trump political forces to work together. This is Politics 101: coalition building around ranked-order preferences. Bernie (and his supporters) will get closer to what they want from a Biden presidency than from a Trump second term. It behooves Bernie to wake up to this fact and use hie resources towards that end. The Covid-19 outbreak only underscores both the stakes of the situation as well as the fact that politics and usual are counterproductive.


*Each state is a district with a minimum magnitude of 3 seats (i.e., each state has at least 3 electoral votes, and therefore each state elects at least 3 electors). Maine and Nebraska break their vote down into one multi-seat district (the statewide race has 2 electors up for grabs) and then several single-seat districts (1 elector per congressional district).

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FILED UNDER: Bernie Sanders, Campaign 2020, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. senyordave says:

    Bernie’s not a Democrat, many of his supporters despise the Democratic party, and will be personally okay if Trump wins a second term. He’s on an ego trip, and some of his senior people were actively undermining Clinton last election. Many of these people were never going to vote for anyone other than Bernie, they are part of a personality cult.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    This is Politics 101: coalition building around ranked-order preferences.

    Which is something Bernie has never acknowledged the need for. His lack of belief in such a thing is behind his demonizing of the DEM party and so much of his rhetoric. He has convinced his fans (“supporters” doesn’t really cover it) that “coalition building” is the source of all evil as it involves…

    Compromise.

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  3. senyordave says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Lost me forever with his “establishment Democrats” tweet. I have been, on occasion, active in the local Democratic club to try to elect Democrats locally. I guess that makes me part of the dreaded establishment.

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  4. Barry says:

    @senyordave: Yes, it does. Bernie supporters have the preference: Bernie (slightly) > Trump (greatly) > any other Dem.

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  5. PJ says:

    It’s time for Obama to endorse.

    4
  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven: In many ways this the bookend to our exchange regarding the lack of trust in government and in particular the bureaucracy.

    Bernie isn’t a Dem and neither are many of his followers. That Biden or any Dem, would get the closer to their nirvana, isn’t what they want, they want nirvana and would rather lose than take half a loaf. In my callow youth, while pretending to be a campus revolutionary (all that plotting during spring on the quad), I had an elderly SWP member tell me how much he resented FDR because Roosevelt ruined socialism’s best chance in the US.

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  7. Kathy says:

    As I understand it, and I may have it wrong, it’s states that determine how primary elections are held and when, and most important who qualifies to be on the ballot. This leaves parties very little recourse to regulate the primary process.

    I’m sure many of us can see several solutions. Actually implementing them is nearly impossible.

  8. Scott F. says:

    The more he gets to talk on a national stage, the greater the chances he can get his message out about MFA and other topics…

    I have some diehard Sanders fans in my circle that have shared their thinking and honestly, they just don’t see it that way. They are convinced that once Bernie starts to talk about his policies from the bully pulpit of the presidency then the People will coalesce around those ideas and they will become law without compromise.

    Bernie (and his supporters) will get closer to what they want from a Biden presidency than from a Trump second term.

    When you talk to Sanders’ true believers, what they admire most is his refusal to compromise for the entirety of his political life. To accept “closer to what they want” instead of “all of what they want” completely undermines their ethos.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bernie Bros are the left-wing counterpart to #Cult45. They have rejected reality and moved into a fantasy world.

    Every time I think I have reached the proper level of cynicism about my fellow Americans. . .

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    Bernie and his supporters really are the U.S. equivalent of Jeremy Corbyn and his flock, aren’t they? They’d rather go “nobly down to defeat rather than compromise!” which means–at least in Corbyn’s case–that Labour will probably wander in the political wilderness for at least ten years (or until the party comes to its senses)

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  11. senyordave says:

    I would love to hear a Berniebro comment on this scenario if Trump wins a second term:
    Trump gets to replace a Supreme Court justice to replace one of the four on the left and
    1. The ACA loses in the Supreme Court – almost certain
    2. Roe v Wade gets overturned – probable
    3. Virtually all state regs restricting voting get upheld – virtually a lock
    I know Berniebros will generally not suffer, but if you tell them that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, what would their reaction be?

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  12. Kathy says:

    @Scott F.:

    They are convinced that once Bernie starts to talk about his policies from the bully pulpit of the presidency then the People will coalesce around those ideas and they will become law without compromise.

    Wow.

    Did they tell you what planet they are living in?

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  13. senyordave says:

    @Kathy: Did they tell you what planet they are living in?

    It is the same planet where 55% approve of the job that Trump is doing in handling the Covid-19 crisis. Given that he ignored/downplayed it for more than two months and he gets that approval rating, maybe the Berniebros are on to something.

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  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Scott F.:

    They are convinced that once Bernie starts to talk about his policies from the bully pulpit of the presidency then the People will coalesce around those ideas and they will become law without compromise.

    It’s like how the Tea Party thought everyone would magically turn into Howard Roark if they got a president to talk about their policies.

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  15. PJ says:

    @senyordave:

    Trump gets to replace a Supreme Court justice to replace one of the four on the left

    One? The likely scenario is that he gets to replace two, and that Thomas resigns. So he would get to pick five in his two terms.

    Oh, they will blubber something about a revolution.

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  16. Kathy says:

    @senyordave:

    I’m saying this with a salt mine: I think that is a temporary aberration due to a feeble rally to the flag sentiment in a crisis.

    We will know if thing regress to the mean.

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  17. Kathy says:

    @PJ:

    Agreed.

    If Trump gets a second term, gods forbid, the first Democratic president afterwards will pack the court by any means necessary. And I literally mean “any” means necessary, like spurious arrests of GOP senators so they can’t vote against their bill.

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @PJ: Only if the goal is to hear Bernie Bots (and maybe the Bern himself) scream “Well sure, who would you expect Obama to endorse? He’s just trying rig the race.”

    And then the DNC will make a fairness ruling that former presidents can’t make endorsements.

    ETA:

    what would their reaction be?

    I’m guessing something about omelets and eggs, but I might be wrong, They could go Evangelical and say society deserved to lose those things for not doing what was right.

  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @senyordave:

    but if you tell them that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, what would their reaction be?

    “Serves you right.”

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    I think that is a temporary aberration due to a feeble rally to the flag sentiment in a crisis.

    I’ve seen that most European leaders got a 10% bump, and that Boris Johnson got 30. So Trump barely got a rally-round-the-flag bump at all. And it’s seven months to the election. That said, that he got a bump at all is frightening. This election is going to be, as the Brits say, a near run thing.

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  21. An Interested Party says:

    If Trump gets a second term, gods forbid, the first Democratic president afterwards will pack the court by any means necessary. And I literally mean “any” means necessary, like spurious arrests of GOP senators so they can’t vote against their bill.

    Even if Trump doesn’t get a second term the next Democratic president should do that, after all, the Republicans have already set the precedent…

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  22. Kari Q says:

    @senyordave:

    but if you tell them that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, what would their reaction be?

    the worse, the better

    Those I know believe that if things only get bad enough, people will embrace socialism.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @senyordave:

    I know Berniebros will generally not suffer, but if you tell them that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, what would their reaction be?

    I mean, Bernie is literally running on ending private health insurance.

  24. wr says:

    @senyordave: “if you tell them that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, what would their reaction be?”

    “Good. Then people will finally be ready for the revolution!!!”

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  25. grumpy realist says:

    @wr: It’s amazing the number of people in the U.S. who seem to be addicted to political mayhem out of sheer boredom with their own lives. The people who voted for Trump to “shake things up”, the Bernie Bros and their “revolution”…

    Even the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be changing the mindset of these people.

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