Of the remaining presidential candidates in either party, Bernie Sanders has the most power to influence the outcome of the general election. He will not become president but can determine who will. He has a strong hand, which his ongoing campaign is only strengthening. In the end, he can play it a number of ways: he can support or sink Hillary’s bid for the presidency, he can use the moment to force change within the Democratic Party, or he can direct the popular energies he’s mustered into starting a new third party.
Let’s be honest about Bernie’s status within the Democracy. The establishment hates him and only wants to minimize the threat, practical and ideological, that he embodies.
Until recently, Sanders had some chance of pulling even with Clinton in numbers of earned delegates won through the primaries. The presidential nomination remained out of his reach, however, because the super-delegates, who express the will of the Democratic establishment, were never going to abandon Clinton in order to back him. Why would the middle and upper tiers of the Democratic hierarchy anger and betray Clinton, diminishing their chance of retaining control of the White House, and further destabilize their party for the sake of an interloper generally viewed as having no chance of winning? Yet Bernie Sanders continues to run. The more delegates he amasses, the greater his independent power, the greater his influence and authority.
Already a one-man movement, Sanders could bolt and run as an independent, though he has said that he won’t. His candidacy has exposed the bland decrepitude of the Democratic party, the public’s yearning for a bold alternative, and voters’ tepid support for the competent Hillary. Bernie himself enjoys a surprisingly fervent following and has proved surprisingly good at raising money. He can afford to compete in every remaining primary, which is giving him valuable information about the nature of the electorate and where support is strongest for his ideas.
The Democrats cannot allow Sanders to leave the Party, for he would draw off a huge number of disaffected voters whose support Hillary Clinton will desperately need. Because Sanders is committed to keeping Cruz or Trump out of the White House, he has said he would ‘certainly support‘ Clinton if she is nominated. As long as the Republicans run one of these candidates, Sanders will feel bound to support Clinton’s run. Making this pledge was unfortunate, increasing the likelihood that, in the end, Sanders and his supporters will be co-opted by an establishment that, in its coldness toward him, has already shown its staunch resistance to change.
To see Bernie get behind Hillary would be disheartening. It would represent a betrayal of his ideas, ideas the Party has no intention of adopting. His identity as a change agent would vanish as quickly as it materialized. So, when it comes to that moment, will Sanders, despite his strong hand, choose to fold?