Bernie Sanders’ withdrawal from the presidential race Wednesday was hardly a surprise. Joe Biden had a prohibitive lead in delegates and in polls for the Democratic nomination. But the Vermont senator’s decision, after a likely loss in yesterday’s strange Wisconsin primary, is still momentous.
Former Vice President Biden, the presumptive nominee, now faces the formidable task of uniting the party. Senator Sanders is not even a “big D” Democrat, he’s a social democrat, and his advocacy for such programs as Medicare For All and free college tuition turned his movement into a force, ranging from septuagenarian “social justice warriors” to millennials saddled with debt, as two Monitor colleagues wrote in February.
Most Sanders supporters can be expected to vote for Mr. Biden, if only as the vehicle for ousting President Donald Trump. But in a close race, any drop-off in Democratic participation in battleground states could doom the party’s chances. Mr. Biden has already shifted leftward. Last month, he adopted a version of Mr. Sanders’ college tuition plan and endorsed the bankruptcy plan of another liberal former candidate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
“While the Sanders campaign has been suspended — its impact on this election and on elections to come is far from over,” Mr. Biden wrote in a long statement, name-checking the Sanders agenda.
I can’t let this moment pass without noting Mr. Sanders’ remarkable (and ongoing) career, agree with him or not. As a college senior in Vermont, I remember when Mr. Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington by 10 votes. He was a hippie transplant from Brooklyn who railed against millionaires – sound familiar? My former colleague Warren Richey traveled to Burlington in 1984 to interview Mayor Sanders , and found a character who talked like a socialist but governed like a pragmatist. When Mr. Sanders reached Congress in 1991, it was more of same: Talk the talk, but when push came to shove, vote with the Democrats.
Until 2015, Mr. Sanders toiled largely unnoticed. Then he took on Hillary Clinton, the embodiment of the Democratic establishment, and a movement was born, nearly grabbing the party’s presidential nomination. Like President Trump, he had tapped into something deep within the American electorate, a populist yearning to smash entrenched forces in Washington.
Whether Mr. Biden can indeed unite the Democrats is an open question. Stay tuned for our coverage of that important story.
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