It’s an understandable feeling, but not one that Hillary Clinton has any footing to complain about. After all, she stayed in the Democratic race eight years ago, long after she was mathematically eliminated, and she actually finished the campaign winning more often than she lost. With Sanders, we’re just experiencing deja vu all over again.
Many Obama supporters made some of the same complaints in 2008 about Clinton’s refusal to give up and how it was giving fodder to the Republicans, forcing Obama to spend precious resources, and delaying the unification of a divided party.
After the results of the November election, however, it looked like Clinton staying in had actually helped Obama in a variety of ways. The most important one was that it forced him to really organize in North Carolina and Indiana, which each held late primaries that year. When he went on to win both states in stunning but narrow victories, I realized that Clinton was probably responsible for adding to his Electoral College margin, and giving him just a little more legitimacy as an incoming president.
There were other factors, too. Clinton made a lot of attacks on Obama, but by surviving and prevailing against them, they were old news in general election. I’m thinking about things like the Jeremiah Wright controversy and the concerns about Tony Rezko. There’s also no doubt that Obama went from being a halting and unconfident debater at the beginning of the process to a polished and self-assured performer by the end.
Every campaign is different, and I don’t dispute that John Kerry suffered in 2004 because he had to worry about John Edwards and Howard Dean at a time when the Bush White House was already hitting him. But the Democrats aren’t running against an incumbent president. Whatever you think about Trump, he hasn’t even begun to build an election juggernaut like the Bush reelection effort, and it’s doubtful that he ever will.
One final observation is that the 2016 Sanders campaign is different in kind from the 2008 Clinton campaign. It’s much more issue-driven, so it’s clearer that it’s not just about thinking he’s more fit to be president and refusing, against all odds and evidence, to concede defeat. Clinton’s goal was to win, and it got to a point where that just seemed delusional. Sanders is honest that he’s focused on getting the most delegates at the convention because he has real substantive differences that he wants hashed out.
So, even though Sanders still makes the occasional obligatory assertion that he retains some kind of longshot chance, it’s clear that he has more limited and tangible and realistic goals.
I’m not convinced he’s doing more harm than good to Clinton’s chances in the fall, and I also think he has much better rationale for staying in until the end than Clinton did eight years ago.
Plus, I don’t see how it really helps anything to write these why-won’t-he-drop-out pieces. He’s not going to listen and it just irritates everyone on all sides of the debate.