Why It's Not Over For Bernie

| by Nicholas Roberts
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersDemocratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won big on March 15 by taking all five states with primaries held on that day: Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri.

In doing so she has widened her pledged delegate lead over her rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont to more than 300 delegates, CNN reports.

Shouldn't Sanders drop out at this point?  The race to the nomination is more or less half over by now, with Clinton currently projected to win remaining big-delegate states like California, New York and New Jersey.

In a word: no.  Even if Sanders cannot win the nomination -- or even get on the eventual Democratic ticket -- there has been a sense from the beginning of his candidacy that his true purpose is to get the Democratic Party moving in a more leftward direction on economic policy.  And the longer he continues his candidacy, the more realistic a goal this will become.

Clinton has already had to play by the rules of the debate which Sanders has set for months.  Sanders has hammered her former support of free-trade deals and, along with Donald Trump on the Republican side, has made the wide-ranging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) into a campaign issue.  

As Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Clinton played a role in drafting the TPP and once called it the "gold standard" of free trade agreements.  Would she have taken that position had Sanders not come out so forcefully against it in early 2015?  That is not clear, and the main reason it is not clear is due to another historical tendency of Clinton and her husband: to "triangulate" on political issues by trying to appeal to both left and right wing audiences.

Democratic voters, at least in the primaries, seem to have grown quite tired of "triangulation," which is perhaps the reason that Clinton has been taking a far more forceful tone on issues like inequality, trade, the minimum wage, and banking regulation in 2016 than she took in 2008.

So in this regard, Sanders has already won by shifting the conversation within the Democratic Party.  While some centrist Democrats are hopeful that Hillary will change her tone in the general election, they should be prepared for her to continue to assail traditional centrist priorities like support for the TPP.  Consistent polling shows that most American voters -- 53 percent in the latest count -- do not like or trust Hillary, with a whopping 33 percent of Sanders supporters saying they will not support Clinton in the general election, according to the Huffington Post.

This suggests that the centrist coalition her husband depended on to win the 1992 and 1996 elections could be fading into history, and that trying to 'pivot to the center' in such a way may hurt Clinton rather than help her.

Sanders has not done well in southern states and was not able to follow up his victory in Michigan last week, with an especially disappointing result in Ohio.  However, he competed very closely with Clinton in Missouri and Illinois until the very end and has been preventing Clinton from winning blowout victories in northern and mid-western states, snatching away the air of inevitability long associated with her candidacy.

And then, as International Business Times notes, there is Sanders' astounding small-donor fundraising apparatus which Clinton just does not have, but will need in November.

The Sanders campaign is not over by a long shot, and will go to the Democratic convention this summer barring blowout losses in every state from now until the end of the primaries.  As Matthew Yglesias of Vox notes, down-ticket candidates for the Senate and House on the Democratic side will need Sanders' money and support come the convention.  Using that money to elect candidates such as Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, Lucy Flores in Nevada and Zephyr Teachout in New York would be a good way to leverage Sanders' "political revolution" by electing non-establishment left-wing Democrats to Congress, similar to the Tea Party on the right.

Of course, what Bernie is most likely to do is to demand that candidate Hillary Clinton add specific left-wing policy planks to her platform and appoint certain individuals to her administration, most likely concerning departments like Treasury and Labor.

Bernie Sanders is here to stay, at least until the Democratic convention.  Clinton needs to think carefully about how she will appeal to Sanders' voters, as a failure to do so would be at her and her party's own peril.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: CNN, International Business TimesVox, Huffington Post / Photo credit: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

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