Following Hillary Clinton’s sizable primary victories last week, Democrats are speculating on the future of the race. Bernie Sanders is unlikely to win enough of the remaining delegates to secure the nomination, but support seems to demonstrate both the Vermont Senator’s ability to continue his bid for the presidency, as well as a moral imperative that every remaining state have a chance to vote for the “Political Revolution.” Pundits calling for Sanders to tone down his rhetoric, or exit the race, underestimate the size of the rift that his movement has created within the Democratic Party. At this point, embracing a contested convention may be the only way to unite the party behind a candidate.
“The latest national poll shows us just 1.4 percent behind Secretary Clinton,” Sanders campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, notes in an April 22nd fundraising email titled, “Erased.” The fact that Sanders has so much momentum this late in the primary season is shocking. “We’ve gone toe-to-toe with the political establishment, Wall Street, super PACs, and the billionaire class,” Weaver recounts in the same email, passively indicting the rigged political and economic order that Sanders battles. Then comes the usual refrain: “Can Bernie count on you to make a contribution?”
Undoubtedly, this is a moment of truth for political revolutionaries. Supporters of Sanders—those progressive voters fueling the Senator’s astounding 7-million small-dollar contributions—must tally their perceived losses and ask whether they are prepared to infuse more money despite the fact that the nomination is slipping away. Twenty-seven dollars, the average contribution to the Sanders campaign, may seem small, but for many donors, this has become a significant recurring monthly expense. Has Sanders transformed the progressive vanguard of the Democratic Party into a formidable labor union with dues-paying members?
News that the Sanders campaign has raised as much money as Clinton, a staggering $182 million, is definitive proof that the political revolution is a powerful force. Mocking the Citizens United credo that “money is free speech,” it appears that the disenfranchised millions backing Sanders have raised enough money to buy a seat at the table where the big shots play monopoly.
What has justified voter investment in the Sanders movement has been the senator’s uncanny ability to deliver measurable results. For example, “Viewers… had the rare experience of watching a candidate move leftward in real time,” Dylan Matthews of Vox, commented on Clinton’s embarrassingly late endorsement of a $15 minimal wage during the April 15th Brooklyn debate. Matthew’s Winners and Losers spin highlights how “the crowd is definitely not with (Clinton), and she’s on defense.” Indeed, the longer Sanders is permitted to rail against the establishment political class, the disastrous Citizens United court ruling, and corporate greed, the more he solidifies a key constituency of working class Americans concerned about growing wealth and income inequality. Consequently, Sanders, not Clinton, is setting the Democratic agenda ahead of the July convention.
The Convention & The Dark Horse
“The election of a President… may be considered as a crisis in the affairs of the nation,” Alexis De Tocqueville famously observed in Democracy in America. Certainly, political pundits today warn of dire consequences should the convention be contested, but New York voters seem to refute their negativity. According to primary exit polls, 66 percent of voters believe the contentious primaries have had a positive effect on Democrats, “energizing the party.”
Out of principle, Bernie Sanders appears determined to bring the Political Revolution to the convention regardless of his final delegate balance. “When only half of the American people have participated in the political process … I think it is absurd for anybody to suggest that those people not have a right to cast a vote,” Sanders told MSNBC in an interview last March. Denying voters a chance to state their preference at the final stops along the way to Philadelphia, will call into question the integrity of the Democratic Party. Sanders, therefore, is viable in all of the remaining primaries and has every reason to push his message vigorously. If he can prevent Clinton from reaching the magic number of delegates necessary to clinch the nomination outright, then he will force one final debate on the convention floor where literally anything can happen.
Enter the dark horse? Suddenly Vice President Joe Biden is weighing in on the race. “I like the idea of saying, ‘We can do much more,’ because we can,” Biden offered an apparent nod to Sanders’s idealistic message and bold campaign style during a recent New York Times interview.
His comments criticize Clinton’s relatively uninspiring pragmatism. “I don’t think any Democrat’s ever won saying, ‘We can’t think that big — we ought to really downsize here because it’s not realistic,'” the Vice President explained. Then he flashed some of his beloved colloquialism, saying, “C’mon man, this is the Democratic Party! I’m not part of the party that says, ‘Well, we can’t do it.” His tone and his optimism bear the flare of a still musing candidate.
Biden makes no secret of the fact that he regrets his decision to stay out of the race. Fortuitously, an open convention could grant the Vice President one last chance to run. The dramatic scene would be something out of House of Cards, but it’s hard to imagine convention floor calls to nominate Biden not taking flight. In the wake of such a bitter contest between Clinton and Sanders, the name would spell relief for many Democrats. Notably, Biden’s candidacy is not jeopardized by an email scandal and pending FBI investigation. Likewise, Sanders supporters would rejoice in the fact that Biden no longer has a Super PAC tarnishing his image. Despite Clinton’s persistent claim that she represents the Obama legacy, nobody can dispute that Biden is the rightful heir to the “Hope and change, Yes We Can!” mantra.
Launched to prominence at a pivotal hour, the Vice President would fulfill many longings among Democrats. Biden would also inherit a highly evolved Democratic platform and be in a powerful position to charge forward, (Obama’s 2012 slogan) brokering compromise among factions. For this happy ending to take effect, however, first Sanders must do the dirty work and force an open convention.
Jeffrey Barken is a freelance writer a graduate of the University of Baltimore’s MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Art and the author of This Year in Jerusalem and All the Lonely Boys in New York.