1. A vote for Bernie Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire is not a vote for Sanders to win the presidency.
In Iowa and New Hampshire, Republican voters have the opportunity to more or less hand Donald Trump the Republican nomination. Should Trump win both states going away, it's likely that at least eight of the remaining eleven Republican candidates -- including Trump's closest competitor, Ted Cruz -- will no longer have any obvious path to the nomination. This is especially true given the "Iowa bump" Trump would receive heading into New Hampshire, and the "New Hampshire bump" Trump would receive were he to then go on and win New Hampshire.
By comparison, Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats will play no significant role in determining who wins the Democratic nomination for President. In fact, all they can do -- the only thing they can do -- is decide whether or not Bernie Sanders' long-shot campaign will continue. If Sanders loses Iowa and New Hampshire, and perhaps even if he merely loses Iowa, his candidacy will have no momentum heading into Nevada and South Carolina and he will get crushed in both of those statewide votes.
If he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be permitted by the nation's political winds to continue his campaign. Then, voters in later and larger caucuses and primaries than those in Iowa and New Hampshire will get to determine whether Sanders amasses even enough delegates to be a distantly credible threat to Clinton. (This is an almost impossibly tall order, given the veritable legions of Clinton "super-delegates" to the Democratic National Convention; indeed, Clinton super-delegates already outnumber those for Sanders more than 45-to-1.)
A vote for Bernie Sanders is therefore merely a vote for the Democratic primary season to continue rather than ending abruptly in the first week of February with (in effect) a Clinton coronation.
2. A vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote for Hillary Clinton.
Hillary is a thoroughly (and notoriously) unlikeable candidate for high office, even as most Democrats agree she's a fully competent administrator when and as she is elected to a position of authority. This campaign against Bernie Sanders not only forces Clinton to improve her political chops in the view of an electorate that generally dislikes her (given her upside-down favorability ratings), it also has prompted her to take stronger positions on issues she otherwise would vacillate on unattractively. The more Clinton is forced to articulate her progressive values, the more human she seems -- including to independent voters scared of a Trump or Cruz presidency -- and she requires the continued presence of Bernie Sanders in the race to realize this type of critical but easily overlooked political gain.
Clinton is not going to run out of money any time soon -- and likely not ever -- so it can reliably be said that Sanders simply makes Clinton a stronger candidate for the fall election. With Sanders gone, Clinton, if history is any guide, will backslide into the same bad habits as a campaigner and public figure that kept her from the presidency in 2008 and have seen her unfavorables rise every additional week she's in the public eye. In short, Clinton needs Sanders -- and desperately.
3. Michael Bloomberg's backchannel announcement that he will enter the presidential race if Sanders is the nominee makes it certain that Sanders is more likely to beat Trump in the fall than Clinton.
Sanders already polls better against Trump than Clinton -- let's start there. Sanders also has much better favorability ratings than Clinton, a much more energized electorate behind him, and the sort of "outsider" message that seems to be en vogue this election cycle. But more importantly, Michael Bloomberg's political profile and history confirms that he will draw many more voters from Trump than the Democrats.
Without Bloomberg in the race, Clinton might well lose head-to-head to the equally disliked Trump in the "change" election we're likely headed for. If Bernie wins the nomination, that means it's a three-way race that is substantially more likely to end in a Democratic victory due to Bloomberg siphoning (primarily) Trump votes.
4. Sanders is a better negotiator than Clinton -- perhaps half-accidentally -- in a way that suggests he would, in fact, get more done in service of progressives than would Clinton once in office.
As any negotiator knows, you don't start a negotiation by asking for what you think you can get; you start the negotiation by asking for everything you could possibly want. In this view, Clinton "demanding" a relatively modest $12/hour minimum wage virtually ensures that any victory she wins on that front will be statistically insignificant -- at best, something in the range of $10/hour.
Meanwhile, Sanders' $15/hour demand is a much smarter opening salvo for a negotiation, as he could meet other Democrats and moderate Republicans halfway and still end up with a much better deal for the working class than Clinton would.
The same is true with Sanders' pie-in-the-sky proposals regarding healthcare: Clinton will ask Republicans for an incremental change and get nothing; Sanders will ask for a radical overhaul of the system and then settle for a substantial but not revolutionary alteration to the healthcare system.
Skeptics say that Sanders is less likely to be able to work with Congress than Clinton. However, as Robert Reich has noted, if the Republicans hold the House -- which they're almost certain to do -- no Democrat, Sanders or Clinton or anyone else, will be getting anything done in the White House between 2016 and 2020 by any means other than an executive order. And as noted above, Sanders' executive orders will be better than Clinton's in the view of progressives, because, unlike Clinton, Sanders does not make the Negotiating 101-level error of negotiating with himself before the real negotiations have even started.
Moreover, given that the entire Republican base is currently clamoring for Hillary Clinton to not only be indicted but imprisoned, and short of that for the next four years to simply be a slow-motion replay of the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Clinton's argument that she can work with Congress is laughable. Negotiating 101: if you aren't seen as being legitimately at the table, no one will negotiate with you.
Republicans may not take Bernie seriously, but (a) they don't personally dislike him (in fact, they clearly admire his integrity if not his policy positions), and (b) assuming Sanders has won the presidency we would also have to assume that he had, in fact, built a political movement that Washington could not ignore.
In short, the Clinton partisans arguing that realpolitik militates against voting for Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire are pulling a bait-and-switch on unsuspecting Democratic voters -- positioning themselves as pragmatists when in fact their insistence that Sanders must be defeated in Iowa and New Hampshire ignores every immovable political chess-piece that's already in play.
5. A vote for Bernie Sanders ensures the Democrats will have a voter-backed candidate for the fall election, rather than a last-minute replacement selected by the Democratic establishment.
The odds of Clinton being indicted over her private email server are long, but not nearly as long as many Democrats would like to believe. The word coming out of the FBI is that there is a strong sentiment for indicting Clinton, even if it's on relatively minor charges -- though any indictment at all might well scuttle her campaign (or, at a minimum, the Democratic establishment's willingness to have her be their standard-bearer in the fall).
The more one reads about Clinton's actions, and her statements about those actions, the more the whole episode seems to raise legitimate red flags about both Clinton's character and the extent of the legal jeopardy she's in. If Bernie Sanders loses Iowa and New Hampshire, and Clinton is indicted, the Democrats will be left without any credible options for the fall election; in effect, a vote for Bernie in Iowa and New Hampshire is an insurance policy against any calamity befalling Clinton and the party later in the spring or over the summer.
And while it's true that President Obama could scuttle any indictment of Clinton, were he to do so the damage to Clinton and her party's national reputation would be so severe as to make Sanders a more competitive candidate at the national level than his rival.
Seth Abramson is Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing and an Assistant Professor of English at University of New Hampshire. His most recent book is Metamericana (BlazeVOX, 2015).