Why Sanders Isn't Quitting

The louder the pleas that Sanders leave the race, the more it makes sense for him to stay.


What does Bernie want?
Garry Trudeau

As the returns came in from Kentucky and Oregon last night, Twitter and the blogosphere lit up with pundits wondering why Bernie Sanders hasn't dropped out of the race, or at the very least leveled with his supporters that he won't win. The Hillary Clinton camp has taken to gnashing its teeth testily and issuing calls for party unity, as with Sen. Barbara Boxer's recent remark that she "would hope that Bernie will be a leader and make sure that everybody understands what is at stake." Sometimes they get more explicit, as when Sen. Dianne Feinstein said last week that Sanders' presence in the race has become "actually harmful," since it means Clinton "can't make that general-election pivot the way she should."

The "pivot," of course, is the moment a candidate stops pursuing her party's base and starts chasing the mushy moderates. The pivot is precisely what Sanders wants to block.

It is true that Bernie Sanders is almost certainly not going to be the Democratic nominee. It is also true that he almost certainly didn't expect to be the nominee when he entered the race, and that he has done far better than almost anyone anticipated. He has proven that the Clintonites can't take his wing of the liberal universe for granted—so why, just when the party leaders are becoming actively afraid of him, should he let them take his supporters for granted now?

Throughout his campaign, Sanders has presented himself as a movement-builder. Well, this is what social movements do: They apply pressure on people who disagree with them. The moment Sanders exits is the moment Clinton stops caring what he has to say. Of course he's staying in as long as he can.

The question here isn't whether Sanders will eventually withdraw from the race. At some point between now and the final moments of the Democratic national convention, he will. The question is whether his followers will be able to keep Clinton's feet to the fire after his candidacy ends. It'll help that not just Clinton but Donald Trump is now chasing Sanders' supporters, but eventually the voting will be over and someone not named Sanders will have won. And then they'll have to do a different sort of pivot, from election-year campaign to ongoing movement. What then?

You don't have to be a Bernie backer (*) to be interested in the answer. Any ideologically driven campaign—any campaign with an aim larger than installing a particular politician in office—will want to watch and learn.

(* For the record: I'm not. I do think he's the least bad of the three remaining major candidates, but that's more a comment on his rivals than it is on him.)