Having lost the California primary by 13 points and fallen miserably behind in the delegate count for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders is talking like he finally has Hillary Clinton right where he wants her.
“The struggle continues,” Sanders said last night at a campaign rally of 3,300 in Santa Monica, California, as he encircled the Clinton campaign and commenced a pincer movement to destroy her candidacy. Ignoring the Associated Press’ napkin math that puts Clinton over the 2,383-delegate threshold, Sanders demonstrated the defiance of Jim Bowie at the Alamo, Baghdad Bob in the Iraq war, Japanese soldiers at Iwo Jima and history’s other famous dead-enders. As he disappeared down his mental spider-hole, Sander vowed to take the fight to the Philadelphia convention and “fight for every vote and every delegate.”
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Why won’t Sanders surrender? Has a clairvoyant informed him that the Clinton campaign plane is going to crash a few days before the convention and the party will turn to him? Does he have an inside source at the FBI telling him that a Clinton indictment is in the offing? Or does he simply possess the greatest messiah complex in the history of politics?
If Sanders is delusional to stay in the race, he’s not much more delusional than the hundreds of narcissists who have run for the White House under the belief that destiny commands that they become president. Most presidential candidates start as extreme long shots, which Sanders did. Most candidates sustain their belief that they can win long after it’s obvious to their supporters that they’re sure to lose, as Sanders is. And most candidates, even after they lose, try to conserve as much goodwill as they can so they can rekindle their campaigns in another four years.
But almost never—make that never—does a presidential candidate who has been soundly horsewhipped at the polls the way Sanders has been this year refuse to yield. And he has been horsewhipped, winning only 12.1 million votes to Clinton’s 15.8 million votes and 23 contests to Clinton’s 33. But when Sanders looks at his box scores he doesn’t see defeat, he sees only a new obstacle in his long, uphill climb to victory! So much fight remains in this man that we can easily envision him initiating contentious procedural battles over the convention’s rules, attacking the party platform as degenerate, maybe filing a law suit or two, launching a third-party candidacy, commencing a write-in campaign or even petitioning the Hague to pronounce the election of Clinton (or Donald Trump) as a war crime and demand its reversal.
What separates Sanders from the usual egomaniacs is his revolutionary heritage. When Sanders says “the struggle continues,” his time frame is not the campaign season, it’s perpetuity. Unlike your average presidential candidate, Sanders possesses the self-image of a revolutionary in service of history—a revolutionary like his hero Eugene V. Debs, a dead-ender himself who ran for president as a socialist four times and would probably be running still if he hadn’t died in 1926. The point of the Debs campaigns was not to collect the most votes and then take office and exercise power but to the more modest one of raising the issues the major parties refused to debate. This is what Sanders did in the 1970s, when he mounted multiple runs for governor and U.S. Senate in Vermont as a minor-party candidate pushing a largely informational agenda.
But then at some point in the 2016 campaign, Sanders began to think he could do more than give Clinton an educational push to the left. Maybe what changed his thinking was those primary victories in New Hampshire and Michigan. Maybe it was the impressive vote totals he was collecting as the runner up in so many primaries. Maybe it was the cheering, adoring crowds he drew. Or perhaps it was the ego boost provided by the $200 million-plus Sanders was raising, mostly in small donations. Whatever the causes, Sanders began to act less like a loss-leader candidate and more like one who could win the nomination, as my colleagues Edward-Isaac Dovere and Gabriel Debendedetti just wrote. And thus did his dead-ender mindset begin to jell. In a normal presidential campaign, there’s usually a strong staff to take the candidate behind the barn and shoot him when the end is inevitable. But no such staff exists in the Sanders campaign. “Sanders owns nearly every major decision, right down to the bills,” as Dovere and Gabriel Debendedetti wrote.
The swift current of Sanders’ revolutionary mindset and the strong winds of his success at the ballot box have joined to drive his campaign farther than anybody—Sanders included—expected. But not far enough. By continuing his “struggle,” Sanders accomplishes little more than becoming the longest socialist footnote in the history of presidential campaigns. Like his hero Debs, he’s destined to become the punchline to jokes about people who stay too long.
Journalistic egos > political egos. I, too, refuse surrender and await a plane crash that will improve my situation. Send aviation tips via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts are as reliable as the Lockheed Constellation. My Twitter feed is faster than the Concorde. My RSS feed think’s it’s the A-10 Warthog.