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What Bernie Should Do Now: Good for Bernie, Good for Hillary, Good for the Nation


It looks highly likely that the fall match-up will be Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump. While a degree of chaos still reigns on the Republican side, this past week’s primaries strongly suggest that – barring the unforeseen — Hillary Clinton is on a glide path to gaining the delegates necessary for winning the nomination.

So what should Bernie Sanders do?

His answer, apparently, is to soldier on, continuing to articulate the same important message that has brought him this far. Hillary’s supporters might wish for Bernie to suspend his campaign and rally round Secretary Clinton for the sake of party unity.

There’s a better answer than either—a way for Bernie to continue his campaign that should be welcomed both by his supporters and by Hillary’s. He should stay in the race to go after Trump, and to call out the GOP generally.

It’s obvious why that would be good for Hillary. Assuming it will end up as a Hillary-Donald match up, everything Bernie can do to diminish Trump’s standing with the electorate increases Hillary’s chances for victory in November. And, by staying in the race, Bernie can keep the bigger megaphone, which comes with candidacy, for his attacks on the presumptive Republican nominee.

Additionally, by continuing the contest, Bernie and Hillary can continue holding debates—which would provide yet another way of magnifying the message crafted to defeat Trump and erode support for Republicans in Congress. The two could even collaborate, in the debate format, in this effort—transforming their debates into a competition over which of them can most effectively drain away public support for the Republicans who, so long as they control Congress, will surely continue their obstructionism against any Democratic president, thwarting his or her efforts.

Which brings us to how this idea of Bernie staying in the race to go after Trump (and the GOP) could be good for Bernie.

Senator Sanders has been trying to persuade the Democratic electorate to support him and the political revolution he is calling for. While his message has been clear and powerful, and his achievement has impressively surpassed expectations, that approach seems ultimately to have fallen short. If there remains any conceivable path for victory for Bernie, therefore, it would seem that it won’t be by doing just more of the same.

Now is a good time to try something new. And focusing on taking down Trump, and on calling out the Republican Party, could be that something new—one last way of showing himself to be the right choice for Democratic voters.

The issue of electability has been much on the minds of Democrats in considering their candidates. With so much at stake, they figure, this is a presidential election Democrats cannot afford to lose. Many, therefore, have thrown their support toward the person they believe will be best able to keep the White House out of Republican hands. Now, with the dangerous Trump the presumed opponent, the matter of electability becomes still more paramount.

Although there have been differences of opinion on who is most electable, for the most part this focus on the need to win has worked in Hillary Clinton’s favor.

But what if Bernie were to prove himself to be the ideal political warrior to stand up to Trump and bring him down? (Which I believe is entirely possible.) Might that cause the Democratic electorate to reconsider which of their candidates is the safer bet?

There are a couple of reasons why Bernie might relish this new role.

For one, combatting Trump is a genre that offers open-ended possibilities for creative strategies. This would give Bernie a chance to show new talents, and to command renewed media attention.

For another, this could provide a new way of presenting his basic message about America’s rigged economy and political system. What with things like Trump’s tax plan favoring the richest, attacking Trump could give Bernie the opportunity to help the American people see the need for people’s anger and frustration to be channeled in the right directions and not misdirected against Trump’s scapegoats. Likewise with calling out the Republicans. Although Hillary may have her big speaking fees from Goldman Sachs, Bernie could help people see how the Republican Party has been the wholly owned instrument of the plutocracy.

There are reasons why Bernie might very well be able to show himself to be more effective than Hillary in direct combat with Trump (and the Republicans). For example:

Bernie’s strength is his obvious integrity and moral conviction whereas, in the public’s estimation, these are not Hillary’s strengths. These qualities in Bernie could prove a powerful foundation from which to strike at Trump, a con man who routinely peddles falsehoods, and at a Party that has distorted the truth on virtually every issue the nation faces.

Bernie is also, unlike Hillary, an insurgent candidate who has never in his career been part of any “political establishment.” In this year when voters (albeit especially on the right) are distrustful of “establishment” politicians, matching Trump in this respect could further strengthen Bernie’s ability to take down the Donald.

If Bernie were to prove adept at getting under the Donald’s skin, if he provokes exchanges (through the media) in which he regularly gets the better of Trump, it’s just possible that Democratic voters will recalculate their “electability” assessments in his favor. Not likely, but perhaps not impossible.

If the far more likely scenario plays out, however, and the Party makes Hillary its standard-bearer for the fall, Bernie will nonetheless have brought still more credit to his campaign by helping to protect America from a President Trump, and to erode the power of the Republican Party that has for years been preparing the path for Trump’s kind of demagogic fascism to rise and threaten the nation.

  • Forest Jones

    I agree,. I see the time spent in Flint as a lost opportunity to point a finger at Republican politicians in general and the “Smaller government is better government” theory in particular. Bernie (or Hillary) could have had a field day. I see lots of good in Bernie going after the Republican party in general and by going at Trump, he might even get some news coverage in spite of the #BernieBlackOut. It does occur to me that typically, you don’t forecast your general election strategy in the primary because it gives the other side more time to prepare (or your efforts may end up being weak). But this could be a valuable conversation to have. He did get some press when he called Trump a Pathological Liar!

  • Andy Schmookler

    Thank you, Forest. I see, btw, that the NYTimes has an article about President Obama having spoken recently such that those who heard him “took his comments as a signal to Mr. Sanders that perpetuating his
    campaign, which is now an uphill climb, could only help the Republicans
    recapture the White House.”

    What I am proposing both allows Mr. Sanders to continue his important campaign AND do the very opposite of “help the Republicans recapture the White House.”

    (Article is here: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/03/18/us/politics/obama-hillary-clinton-bernie-sanders.html?_r=0&referer=https://t.co/HiJAinMS1d?cn=ZmxleGlibGVfcmVjc18y .)

  • Great Blue Heron

    I agree to the extent that if Bernie stayed in, he could help the Democratic Party unite and pivot toward Trump by keeping his supporters energized. As you point out, that would happen if he kept articulating his issues. That would certainly help in the general to drive Democratic and otherwise sympathetic voter turnout. Turnout will be absolutely vital. Bernie’s continued candidacy will in no way persuade Trump supporters or those leaning his way, and may even aid the Republicans in rallying around Trump.

    Sometimes, we forget that making strong, logical arguments and impassioned speeches is not going to work with many people. When you live “outside the Beltway” as we do, it is absolutely clear that there are literally millions of people for whom Trump represents an opportunity to “get back” at somebody they’re mad at, for no logical reason at all. In the attached photo, you can see that no amount of intelligent persuasion will work.

    I’m very grateful to Bernie for making Hillary a better candidate, just as I was to Hillary in the 2008 campaign for making Barack Obama promise to make health care a priority of his administration. That’s the way this works.

    I might admire the purity of ideas and ideals. But ultimately, politics is about power. Whatever it takes, Bernie needs to avoid shooting the party in the foot. If Nader had not drained 2% of the vote away from Al Gore in 2000, we would have been spared George Bush.

    So let’s get on with it and make sure Trump never gets near the White House!