So that’s it. With the exception of DC, every part of the United States has voted and those votes have either been counted or are in the process of being. We now know unequivocally who’s going to be the Democratic nominee for president. We’ve actually known for some time, but as of today no one can say that there’s still a chance things could go another way or that there’s a slim possibility some alternative path to electoral victory will make itself known for the challenger. Hillary Clinton has won. Bernie Sanders has lost. It’s all over. Period. Clinton now has the delegates she needs to clinch the nomination — yes, including Democratic superdelegates, the same metric that uncontroversially put Barack Obama over the top eight years ago — and she takes home millions more votes than her opponent. Sanders has run a Cinderella race and done far better than just about anyone expected him to, but in the end he lost. Fair and square. Not because the election was stolen from him by a corrupt establishment, not because of closed primaries, and not because the media shrugged while his rallies drew trillions of people. He lost because he didn’t get enough votes to win. Simple as that.
Despite the questionable tactic of personally attacking Hillary Clinton in ways that could help the GOP and its abhorrent presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, you could maybe understand and forgive Bernie Sanders’s determination to stay in the race until all the votes were in. Maybe his angry rhetoric and promises to fight to the death have merely been intended to whip his supporters into a frenzy so he can approach the DNC with the wind at his back as he pushes for change. Maybe the conspiratorial talk of voter suppression and dishonest dealings from on high was just playing to the crowd. Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe Bernie Sanders really is a bitter, entitled crank, who at some point stopped running an eminently moral campaign dedicated to the issues and started simply being drunk on the thrill of being every Millennial’s imaginary best friend. There’s one very easy way to tell where Sanders’s head is at right now and who he is as a person and a leader, and that’s to look at what he does now that the race is effectively over and he hasn’t won. He’s presented with two choices now and they’re the same choices everyone who’s lost despite his or her best efforts has had to grapple with. Does he go out with dignity and grace — or does he go on and become an embarrassment, a reality-averse dogmatist fighting a battle he’s already lost and hurting himself, his adopted party, and his country in the process?
Put simply, Bernie Sanders needs to quit. He needs to concede the race and rally his faithful, to the best of his ability, behind Hillary Clinton because whether they like it or not, she’s the only thing standing in the way of a President Donald Trump. Sanders joined the Democratic party and ran under its banner, receiving all the attendant legitimacy and gaining access to the party’s vast electoral apparatus and now that he’s lost he needs to honor his end of the bargain and not try to rip the party in two or throw it under the bus. A united Democratic front is essential to defeating Trump and the morally bankrupt party too craven to stand up to him, because Trump and the GOP don’t just deserve to be beaten in the upcoming election, they deserve to be thoroughly decimated for this dangerous gambit they’ve undertaken. The Republican party and leadership are cynically risking the safety and health of the United States — attempting to place a self-evidently unfit candidate, a fledgling fascist demagogue, in the Oval Office — in the name of their hatred of Hillary Clinton and their thirst for partisan power. For that, they need to be crushed utterly. And only an undivided opposition can achieve this. Trump cannot be allowed to ascend to the White House. The Democrats are the only ones who can stop him.
What was once an all but insurmountable path to the nomination for Bernie Sanders is now an impossible path. It’s no path at all. For Sanders to actually attempt to make the case that the superdelegates he so forcefully excoriated as undemocratic should be truly undemocratic and abandon the winning candidate would be a pathetic kind of irony. If he genuinely tries to do this, he seals the legacy of his candidacy: It will be remembered as arrogance and folly, as the madness of a petulant man-child rather than the noble work of a dedicated public servant committed to positive change. Not only would the attempted thwarting of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats’ efforts to take the presidency and stop Trump be unconscionable at face value and a potential threat to the country and the world, they would be rewarded with an effective end to Sanders’s career in the Senate. Sanders relies on Democratic patronage and he needs allies in Congress in order to have any sort of successful impact on his state and the American people. To spit in the faces of the Democrats would turn Sanders into a pariah. He’d be banished to a kind of political Siberia — and make no mistake, he would deserve it.
Sanders could of course continue his quixotic quest to wrest the nomination from the hands of the person the voters chose to represent them. That kind of brazen, stupid move would no doubt thrill his most frenzied acolytes. It would set the “Bernie or Bust” movement ablaze as they dropped to their knees and groveled before the One True Progressive God. But it would hurt the country. It would hurt the country badly — and as he’s by no means an idiot, Sanders has to know this. Even if Sanders were to back Clinton and call for unity, he’d face an uphill battle. Such is the nature of his appeal to his army of zealots. It’s no coincidence that on the day that saw him staring down political oblivion, a Washington Post story detailed how Sanders’s supporters are harassing female reporters who simply report objective fact rather than pro-Bernie spin, using misogynistic language and threatening them with rape. Not all Sanders supporters are these people, but these are absolutely Sanders’s people. And one way or the other he has to make an attempt to rein them in by directly addressing their behavior. So far he’s largely shrugged it off, which may speak volumes about him, but these are the types of supporters he needs to both hold accountable and try to get through to. He’s the only one who can do it, if anyone at all can at this point.
It’s unlikely the most rabid of Sanders’s fanatics can be convinced to do the right thing, given that this was always a cult of personality for them. But many very likely will listen to reason (particularly once Barack Obama, perhaps the world’s greatest “adult in the room,” begins thrashing Trump and driving the need for unity home). For Sanders’s “revolution” to have any hope or longevity at all, he has to at least try. Because the next phase of it will be an attempt to garner concessions from the Democratic party and to push for downticket candidates who can start their own groundswell of progressive political victories on a small scale. That’s incremental change, certainly, which Sanders and his supporters seem to be vehemently opposed to, but that’s what works. That’s how lives are made better.
But in order for that to happen, Sanders has to accept reality, whether he likes it or not. He didn’t win the nomination and he won’t win the White House. But he can still do a lot of good. Starting right now.