Ending a presidential campaign means killing a dream. If the campaign was launched with reasonably high expectations, and especially if it met with some success, that dream was shared by the candidate, staff, and millions of supporters. For a candidate like Bernie Sanders, the runner-up in 2016 and winner of the first three contests in 2020, and running what has to be his last campaign at age 78, it is particularly hard to let go. Under normal circumstances, a candidate who has fallen behind 913-752 in the delegate race (at this writing) might be expected to play out at least a few more rounds of contests before throwing in the towel.
These are not normal circumstances. Holding additional primaries now presents a public-health risk, one severe enough that Louisiana, Georgia, and Puerto Rico have delayed their primaries, and Ohio governor Mike DeWine has announced he will go to court for the authority to delay tomorrow’s high-stakes contest. While the presidential races are not the only primaries, they are the biggest ones, drawing the largest crowds, and in some states, the only game on the ballot. Sanders acknowledged the problem to Anderson Cooper after last night’s CNN debate:
[A]s you know Louisiana, and Georgia, and Puerto Rico have delayed their elections. Postponed them, they’ve got dates in the future. Look, election dates are very very important we don’t want to be getting into the habit of messing around with them. But you remember . . . 9/11, you know there was a primary in New York City? . . . And it was canceled for obvious reasons . . . and it was rescheduled two weeks later. I would hope that governors listen to the public health experts, and what they are saying as you just indicated, we don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people. I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, doing all that stuff. Does that make a lot of sense? I’m not sure that it does.
Delay can be a workaround when an election still needs to be held, but this one does not. Nobody will care if all the remaining Republican primaries are canceled. The only reason to keep voting on the Democratic side is because of Bernie Sanders. Ending his campaign now would be the right thing for Bernie to do, for the good of the country. And even in strictly partisan terms, it would be a help to his own party’s all-but-presumptive nominee. We got one last debate last night, for Sanders to make the case for his view of the Democratic Party’s future. The next generation can make that argument in the next election. Right now, nothing but the difficulty of letting go of the dream is stopping the primaries from being canceled altogether. Under these circumstances, it’s time for the dream to give way to reality.