WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders has suspended his presidential campaign, ending a run that took him to the top of polls before a thinning field left him badly trailing former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The path toward victory is virtually impossible,” Sanders said in a live-streamed speech late Wednesday morning. “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win.”
Sanders’ intensely loyal supporters and movement politics helped him to a brief moment as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. But It didn’t last long.
After Sanders tied for an Iowa win, won New Hampshire and dominated in Nevada, Joe Biden rebounded in South Carolina to recover in the race, buoyed by strong African American support. The collapse of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign and last-minute endorsements from some of Biden’s top former rivals before Super Tuesday helped the former vice president slingshot past Sanders to reclaim his front-runner status.
Sanders struggled to reestablish himself afterwards, badly losing a string of primary states he’d won or come close to winning in his 2016 campaign as Biden ran up a near-insurmountable delegate lead before the coronavirus pandemic threw the race into deep freeze.
The coronavirus crisis pushed the race out of voters’ minds, and while Sanders took weeks to decide how to proceed, facing almost-certain loss, he decided to drop his now-quixotic bid for the White House rather than risk hurting Biden’s chances of defeating President Trump in the fall.
Pushed the party left
Sanders’ campaign fell short. But his movement has pushed the Democratic Party left in recent years, helping make ideas like a national $15 minimum wage, dealing with college loan debt, and expanding Social Security staples of Democratic Party orthodoxy while making Medicare for All a major debate within the party.
“Together we have transformed the American consciousness as to what kind of country we can become and have taken a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, racial justice, and environmental justice,” Sanders said. “Few would deny that over the course of the last five years our movement has won the ideological struggle.”
Sanders’ decision leaves Biden as the party’s de facto nominee, the completion of a dramatic comeback for the former vice president.
Biden finished fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, two heavily white states, and a distant second place in Hispanic-heavy Nevada. But Biden’s big South Carolina win helped restore voters’ wavering faith in him. Almost immediately afterwards, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) dropped out and endorsed him.
Sanders was also hurt by his steadfast refusal to try to reach out to a party he’s never joined, as well as a badly timed controversy that scared Democrats who’d been reluctant to jump into the race into rallying against him.
During his brief emergence as a party frontrunner, Sanders kept to his message that the Democratic establishment was the enemy, raging against corporate elites in both parties, refusing to soften his tone and making clear he planned a hostile takeover of the party rather than signaling he was willing to compromise to help hold the party together.
And after his Nevada win, Sanders defended Cuba’s dictatorial regime by lauding its literacy program in an interview, which crystallized many Democrats’ fears that he could cause a party-wide wipeout in the general election.
Sanders’ fundamental game plan to reshape the electorate also never came to fruition. The Vermont senator got strong support from young voters and made huge inroads with Hispanic voters, cementing them as a key voting bloc. But his plan to turn out broad swaths of disaffected voters to win the race never materialized. And once the field cleared and Biden cemented himself as the only alternative for more moderate Democrats, disaffected Republicans, suburbanites and more liberal voters who were worried about Sanders’ electability, Sanders had no plan to respond.
As Sanders made clear in his Wednesday speech, while he’s suspending the race he’ll continue to pressure Biden on policy issues and look to push the Democratic Party platform to the left. He did not endorse Biden and said he'd remain on the ballot, meaning voters can still award him delegates he can take to the Democratic National Convention.
While Biden won a clear majority of the vote, he’ll need Sanders to help him turn out the hardline progressives, young voters, and Hispanics that made up Sanders’ coalition in order to defeat Trump in the general election.
Cover: Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders makes a point as he and former US vice president Joe Biden take part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)