"We are used to fighting uphill climbs," Bernie Sanders proudly proclaimed after his West Virginia Primary victory on Tuesday night. The victory was the Vermont Senator's 19th in the battle for the Democratic nomination for President. It proved that, despite Hillary Clinton's nearly 300 pledged delegate lead in the race, Sanders is making it interesting. He is making her look over her shoulder, breaking a sweat in her quest to secure the nomination in a general election against, in all likelihood, Donald Trump.
Sanders says he will fight all the way up to the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia, and hopefully sway some of Clinton's 516 superdelegates over to his side.
"I will fight as hard as I can to make certain that Donald Trump does not become president of the United States," Sanders recently stated.
It's time for Bernie to assess whether staying in the race is the best way to achieve that goal.
I say that because it's clear that the Democratic Party is divided between Sanders and Clinton, and the divide is sharp. Perhaps nothing defines this schism more than the "Bernie Or Bust" movement, in which Sanders' supporters express unwavering allegiance to the Democratic Socialist, even if it means voting for a third-party candidate, or worse, Donald Trump. This would go directly against Sanders' goal of making sure the New York billionaire never steps foot in the White House. An April 24 Los Angeles Times story cited a recent McClatchy-Marist poll showing one in four Sanders supporters would not vote for Clinton in a general election. This may prove fatal for the Democrats in November.
However, what is most troubling, to me at least, is the fact that Sanders seems to encourage these supporters. He steepens the chasm within the party not only with his rhetoric, but also with his inability to understand the best way to unite the party and defeat Trump is to come together behind Clinton.
I know the "Bernie Bros" will roast me for these opinions, and cite polls that have Sanders beating Trump in a general election contest. Still, at this point, the delegate math is not on his side. Yes, the pledged delegate system is far from perfect, but nothing can be done to change it before November.
His 1,425 pledged delegates sit nearly 300 behind Clinton's 1,719. When factoring in superdelegates (Clinton has 516 to Sanders' 41), that deficit swells to 769. To win the nomination, Sanders would need a substantial amount of Clinton's superdelegates to switch their allegiance. Taking the fight all the way to Philadelphia with only strengthen the Republicans' resolve and further divide Democratic voters in November.
I get it. It's a heated campaign season, and the sparring on the left is dwarfed in comparison to the vitriol spewed between candidates on the right. I understand the importance of fighting for what one believes in, and voting on one's conscience.
I'm no Clinton cheerleader, either. There's good reason for her high unfavorable ratings. Yet, this is about party unity. Time is not on the Democrats' side. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who, just last week, told CNN that he wasn't ready to support Trump, was "very encouraged" by his meeting with the presumptive GOP nominee on Thursday. The Republicans have taken steps to unite, while the Democrats have been impeded by Sanders' insistence on staying in the race.
Look, I like Bernie. I admire his determination, and agree with much of his policies on fixing income inequality, a corrupt campaign finance system, education, and the unethical war on drugs. He has brought these issues to the forefront of the American political consciousness, and changed the Democratic Party because of it. However, by carrying on his campaign to a contested convention, Sanders walks a fine line between advancing his progressive ideals, and damaging Clinton's image ahead of the general election. Right now, unification of the party should be top priority.
It's a matter of protecting his legacy as well. If Sanders shows he can support his colleagues and work together with his constituents, he will gain greater respect and influence upon his return to the Senate. As a progressive titan, he could harness the momentum of his presidential campaign and work to elect Congressional candidates supportive of his policies and beliefs. This can help make his "political revolution" a reality.
If Sanders doesn't bow out, then he at least needs to tone down his rhetoric against Clinton. Donald Trump himself is impressed by the Senator's heated rhetoric. He even plans to use some of Sanders' statements against Clinton should she secure the nomination in a general election.
"I'm going to be taking a lot of the things Sanders said and using them," Trump told Morning Joe in April. "I can reread some of his speeches and get some very good material."
If becoming Trump's ghostwriter doesn't give Sanders pause, and make him question whether his campaign is helping or hurting Trump's chances at the White House, I don't know what will.
It's time for Sanders to look in the mirror and assess what the ultimate goal of his campaign is: Never Clinton, or Never Trump?