It was another terrible night for the junior senator from Vermont.
A week after losing the delegate-rich state of New York by 16 points to Hillary Clinton, the former home state senator (the margin was even worse in the New York City area, where he lost the Bronx by 40 points and Manhattan by 33), Sanders escaped this week's Acela primaries with a single win in the tiny state of Rhode Island and a slightly better-than-expected in Connecticut.
The rest of the night, to put it mildy, was a bloodbath: the two biggest delegate prizes of the night, Maryland and Pennsylvania, were solidly in the Clinton column by the time the voting was over and done with. Pennsylvania, a state which quite a few white, blue-collar workers, should have been better ground for a man who has made the signing of free trade deals over the past three decades a central part of his platform. Instead, Clinton won Penn with a comfortable twelve-point margin (55.6 percent-43.6 percent), a result that afforded her 95 delegates to Sanders' 67. Maryland wasn't even a contest; when any candidate loses by 30 points, he or she has some soul searching to do.
If the delegate math was Bernie's primary adversary before the Acela primaries, it is now his sole opponent. For the whisky, white-haired democratic socialist to catch up in the pledged delegate count, he needs victories with huge margins. Unlike the Republican Party, Democrats don't have states that award their delegates on a winner-take-all basis -- rules that put candidates far behind the frontrunner at a big disadvantage.
Winning a primary or a caucus by five points or ten points is simply not good enough for Bernie and his campaign. Instead, he needs to win the rest of the states on the primary calendar by 30, 40, and 50 point margins, similar to the way Sanders claimed Washington State and Hawaii last month. Unfortunately for Sanders, this isn't going to happen: if the state isn't full of white, young progressives who are searching for an alternative to what they perceive as the old Democratic machine, Sanders doesn't have a chance in hell to win.
Before Tuesday, Sanders trailed Hillary Clinton by over 200 pledged delegates. After Tuesday, his margin is worse: according to the count from RealClearPolitics, Sanders is now down by 333 pledged delegates. But far more significant is the fact that Hillary Clinton is only 232 delegates away from clinching the Democratic nomination when you include the overwhelming lead she has over Bernie Sanders in the superdelegate column. Put another way: Clinton is 90 percent of the way to capturing the prize.
Mathematically speaking, the Democratic primary isn't over yet. But practically speaking, Bernie Sanders has effectively lost the nomination. Either Bernie supporters can place their faith in the miracle that somehow, someway, their candidate will improve his dismal performance with key constituencies of the Democratic Party (like minorities) over the next month and a half, or they can embrace reality and concede to the obvious: Bernie is not going to win the nomination and that whether they like it or not, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic Party standard-bearer against the Republican nominee in the fall.
This transformation will be an incredibly painful and distressing thing for Bernie's supporters to do. Every single Bernie supporter I have interacted with is absolutely committed to the Vermont senator and his message. Most of them are young people looking for a fair shake in a political system that they consider corrupt, dominated by elites with big pockets, and directed by politicians in Washington who reside in a bubble of privilege and prestige. And they aren't wrong.
But there comes a time in every presidential campaign that finds itself increasingly away from the finish line to reassess their chances. This is precisely what Hillary Clinton had to do eight years ago when then-Senator Barack Obama created an insurmountable lead in the Democratic primary and kept a lock on his superdelegates heading into the convention.
Now it's Bernie's turn.