Democrats Have No Patience For a Long Campaign

The party has decided on its nominee and needs to show it can tackle one of the biggest crises of our lifetimes.

The handwriting is on the wall now, as Joe Biden racks up endorsements and surges in the polls. Democrats are coalescing and will be eager to put the primary battle behind them so they can focus on beating President Trump.

Four years ago, a surprise victory in Michigan prolonged Bernie Sanders’ campaign without really improving his long odds of winning the nomination. A repeat upset for Sanders in Michigan looks increasingly unlikely to happen on Tuesday. In 2016, Sanders almost won Missouri and crushed Clinton in the Washington State caucuses. Neither of those outcomes is predicted this time around. By Wednesday, Biden will have blocked any plausible path for Sanders to win the nomination outright. He already has the endorsement of all of the major competitors except Warren, who has remained neutral.

Even in a normal year, patience would wear thin on any Democrat who continued to bash the presumptive nominee after the point at which there was no real hope of defeating them. But this is not a normal year in any sense. With the coronavirus ravaging the economy and disrupting all the normal rhythms of life, there’s a real urgency to show that the Democrats have their act together and can step in and return things to normal. If they look chaotic and obsessed with matters that have little to do with the immediate emergency, it will be political malpractice of the highest order.

It’s clear that things have lined up for Biden in a fortuitous way, even if the circumstances are incredibly unfortunate. If there was previously a big debate about whether people want big change or some peace and quiet, the coronavirus pandemic has put that to bed. Folks want stability and security, and the appetite for risk has already been more than sated.

The Republicans will attack Biden mercilessly, and a Democrat or Democratic movement that continues to amplify and lend credence to those attacks will discover a wall of implacable hostility.

This is hard for the Sanders partisans to digest. Just ten days ago they looked like they were on a glide path to taking over the Democratic Party. There’s no preexisting indication of any kind that Sanders or his supporters ever intended to drop out or stop fighting until the last ballot in the primaries was cast. And I very much do not expect them to change their minds about that now.

Certainly, the attacks on Biden will not stop unless Sanders first stops making those attacks himself. He’s not known for his adaptability, but perhaps the magnitude of the current situation will be sufficient to cause some evolution of his views. In the end, his campaign will either serve as a stepping stone to further progressive change or it will be remembered as a potent challenge that had to be crushed and a mistake that should never be repeated. He has a lot of control over that even if events have so far conspired against him.

He can continue on as he always intended, making his case against Biden and trying to accumulate as many delegates as possible. But he can also make a different decision, and explain that the important thing now is to stop infighting and unite to address one of the biggest crises any of us has seen in our lifetimes.

I can’t say fate has been fair here, but fair no longer has anything to do with the situation we’re facing.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com