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.
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).