I’m feeling optimistic today, so bear with me and keep reading.
Check your Facebook News Feed. Chances are, it’s loaded with articles begging Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race. Everyone’s weighing in with their version of pleading with Bernie to step down. Some of these articles are predicting certain doom for the Democrats in the general if Bernie doesn’t immediately do the right thing.
The author of nearly every article has it right: the longer Bernie stays in the race, the more unnecessary damage he’ll inflict upon Hillary Clinton in advance of June 14, the day of the final primary. This assessment is true. It’s truer still when we realize that there’s less than a month-and-a-half — 41 days to be exact — between the last primary and the beginning of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia on July 25.
Yes, Hillary Clinton remained in the deeply contentious 2008 primaries until the very last day before conceding and unifying with the Obama campaign. But the difference between 2008 and 2016 is obvious: the 2008 convention was held at the end of the Summer, August 25 to be exact, giving the Democrats closer to 75 days to unify rather than just 41.
The limited time between the last primary and the launch of the convention is the single motivating factor that should give the Bernie campaign and his supporters reason to back away from drawing a comparison to the 2008 process. The Bernie people don’t really care, but they probably should. The Democrats simply won’t have as much time to repair the damage from the primary battles. Then again, the Democrats planned for a July convention fully aware of the narrow window between the end of the primaries and the start of the general.
Now for a shocking prediction…
Tradition and past trends indicate that Bernie will probably concede on June 7 or 14. From there, he’ll very likely declare his support for Hillary Clinton, initiating the unification process. And, ultimately, as far as the Democrats go, everything will be just fine. It’ll be a lot more difficult to get the supporters of both candidates to play nice before the convention, but it’ll happen.
Bernie knows that conceding and unifying will be elemental to the game and therefore his political future. Specifically, it’ll be critical to Bernie continuing his career in the Senate. Regardless of his exact party affiliation, Bernie needs his colleagues in the upper chamber — chiefly, of course, the Democrats — in order to further pursue his legislative agenda. Without easing relations with party leadership on the Hill, Bernie’s Senate career will die a rapid death. He has to be aware of what’s required in order to continue functioning in the Senate with any sort of efficacy. For that, he’ll need help, and he won’t get that help if he destroys the party’s general election chances, including the fates of 10 Democratic seats up for grabs. By the way, there are 24 Republican seats in play. In other words, there’s a decent chance the Democrats could retake the Senate if they’re all smart about it.
Plus, everything you’re witnessing right now has occurred before. Only the names have changed. And, in the end, everything usually susses out. Indeed, 2008 was probably more harrowing than 2016, and it all landed as gently as it could. President Obama didn’t appear to be hobbled by Hillary staying in until the end. Again, caveat: there was more time to heal in 2008, but something tells me 41 days will be sufficient enough. At least, that’s my sincere hope.
Let’s take a second to talk about Bernie himself.
It’s safe to assume that he’s personally facing an avalanche of demons right now, as anyone would who’s dedicated more than a year of his middle 70s to endlessly campaigning and repeating the same speeches over and over again — sacrificing his private life and personal health with phenomenal quantities of stress hormones ripping through his veins every moment of every day — and to ultimately come up short despite it all. On top of that, it has to be difficult to walk away from the level of wildly vocal support he’s received. Anyone who’s had a positive experience speaking to large crowds can attest that it’s highly addictive. And Bernie came this close to actually pulling off a surprise victory — tantalizingly close to actually becoming president. Were I in his place, you’d have to drug me, duct-tape my mouth shut and physically drag me away from the campaign trail.
Now imagine what Hillary went through in 2008, knowing that she won the popular vote, and yet she still had to concede to Obama — burying her pride and ambition, not to mention the hopes and dreams of her dedicated supporters. Bernie’s in the same place today, and it has to suck. So, give him time. He’ll come around.
But yeah, I get it. It’s really easy to observe what’s happening online and on cable news and to draw the conclusion that we’re careening headlong into a fiery inferno due to both Bernie’s allegedly unprecedented stubbornness as well as his supporters’ tenacity to hurl the board-game across the room and storm off. It looked the same way in 2008, and everything turned out just fine. My sincere guess is that we’ll look back at 2016 and draw the same conclusion.
As for defeating Trump, that’s a different story. Bernie or not, concession or not, unity or not, this election is still going to be a 50/50 proposition. This, and not the primaries, ought to be keeping us up at night.