Commentary: Why Bernie Won't Go Away. Like The Dude, He Abides

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign stop Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin. (Andy Manis/AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign stop Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin. (Andy Manis/AP)

Democrats have now held dozens of primaries and caucuses to determine who will be their 2016 nominee for president. While analysts say there’s no way Bernie Sanders can beat Hillary Clinton, he soldiers on. Why?

He abides. After losing five of five contests on March 15, he came back this past weekend and won three of three. He clobbered Clinton in Washington state’s caucuses, 73-27 percent, and in caucuses in Alaska 70-30 percent and Hawaii 82-12 percent. Now he’s taking aim at Wisconsin on April 5, with 96 delegates at stake. But the real prize is New York (Clinton’s home state) on April 19; with 291 delegates.

He keeps winning delegates. Because Democrats don’t have winner-take-all primaries, Sanders can keep gathering delegates, even if he loses states and even if he has virtually no chance to win the nomination.

What else does he have to do? He’s a 74-year-old senator from a tiny New England state who has pretty much zero clout in the U.S. Senate. The Washington Post found that he has gotten only three bills signed into law, and two were to rename post offices in his home state of Vermont. One was important, the Post said, a $15 billion overhaul of the Veterans Administration.

He’s not really a Democrat, so losing a Democratic convention wouldn't be a big career setback. He told CBS News that he thought about running as an independent but decided not to. “What I did not want to do is run as a third-party candidate, take votes away from the Democratic candidate, and help elect some right-wing Republican.”

No one else wanted to take on Clinton. Not Vice President Joe Biden, not Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, not New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. All the big-name Democrats chose to sit this one out, leaving the field wide open. Marty O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, ran briefly and ineffectively. Why should Bernie quit now?

He can raise millions without lifting a finger. All he has to do is make an appeal for funds in a debate and presto (!) money appears on his website. Other candidates have to work the phone or attend events, spending scarce time wooing donors, or they spend millions on direct mail or online solicitations to strangers. Sanders raises tons of small dollars online almost by spontaneous combustion. Recent numbers are not available, but for months his average contribution has been running under $30.

He must get a huge ego boost from the crowds that rival the size of Donald Trump’s. He started out, Sanders says, 50 points behind. Now he gets jumbo-sized crowds -- 20,000 last weekend in Seattle. Who wouldn’t get a charge out of that kind of adulation? Prior to his run for president, he drew virtually no attention from the national media.

He beats Trump by bigger margins than Clinton does. He leads 55 percent to 37 percent for The Donald, according to polling averages. She beats Trump 50-39 percent.

He’s a protest candidate. Can’t stand Hillary? Vote for Bernie. Hate Wall Street? Vote for Bernie. Despise Trump? Vote for Bernie. Worried about climate change? Vote for Bernie. He’s one-size-fits-all.

He’s Trump without the immaturity and insanity. Like Trump, Bernie rails against trade deals that hurt American workers and wants to tax Wall Street deals. Unlike Trump, Bernie attacks the greed of the top 1 percent of earners (of whom Trump is one), thinks student loan debt is intolerable, and says it’s unfair for young people to get arrested for carrying a joint while Wall Street executives get away with legally stealing millions.

He believes he can lead a national movement (or revolution), regardless of what happens at the convention. Surely he expects the mostly under-30 people who flock to his rallies will become foot soldiers in his army of protesters to make the top 1 percent of American overlords pay their fair share of taxes and deal with wide income disparity.

He wants New York on April 19 to be a showdown on fracking. He opposes the pumping of water containing chemicals deep underground at high pressures to release oil and natural gas. Clinton says she does not support fracking where it is causing environmental damage or in states like New York, where it is banned, “though she has stopped short of opposing the practice outright," The Washington Post reported.

Sanders campaign spokesman Tad Devine told the Post: “Fracking is something New York state has outlawed, and there’s a big difference between Hillary and Bernie.” The Clinton team is already crying foul.

Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst and a regular contributor to WBUR Politicker. He tweets @payneco.

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Dan Payne Democratic Political Analyst
Dan Payne is a Democratic political analyst for WBUR.



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