That streak, unfortunately for the Vermont senator and his army of supporters, effectively ends on Tuesday with the conclusion of the Wisconsin primary.
What that means for Sanders is that there just aren’t any real opportunities for him to change the arc of the primary anytime soon. While he was likely to come up short to Biden even before stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines forced the candidates off the campaign trail and froze the campaign in place, that fate seems nearly certain given the current state of the contest and the country.
As recently as a month ago — when Sanders lost the Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho primaries on a single night — he was pledging to stay in the race. “Today I say to the Democratic establishment, in order to win in the future, you need to win the voters who represent the future of our country and you must speak to the issues of concern to them,” Sanders said in his concession speech on March 10.
And as Sanders’ chances have decreased, whispers have begun to emerge that now is the time for Sanders to acknowledge reality and bow out of the race.
That things would end — for all intents and purposes — for Sanders in Wisconsin is a cruel reality. The Wisconsin primary has been a massive mess for weeks, as the Democratic governor and Republican-led state legislature were unable to agree on changes that would avoid having voters turn out in person amid a stay-at-home order designed to limit the spread of coronavirus. After much legal wrangling, in-person voting went forward on Tuesday despite those health concerns.
But Sanders, who had called on the primary to be rescheduled last week, made clear that his campaign would not be conducting any sort of traditional get-out-the-vote operation in Wisconsin.
“Let’s be clear: holding this election amid the coronavirus outbreak is dangerous, disregards the guidance of public health experts, and may very well prove deadly,” Sanders said in a statement released Monday night.
While it’s possible Sanders’ decision to not aggressively turn out his voters might buy him a little bit more time in the race — we didn’t even try to win! — there’s simply no way to look at Biden’s delegate lead, the remaining calendar and the way in which coronavirus is dominating all aspects of society and conclude that Sanders is still a relevant player in the race.
That Sanders’ second campaign for president ends with this sort of whimper should not in any way diminish what the Vermont democratic socialist accomplished over these last five-ish years. Sanders’ impact on the Democratic Party over that period of time is absolutely massive. He dragged the party’s establishment — at times unwillingly — far further to the ideological left on a panoply of issues, chief among them health care and climate change.
Sanders did so by understanding far earlier and with far more clarity than anyone else in the Democratic Party where its base was — and what it wanted from its future leaders. Sanders offered big, unapologetically liberal solutions to the problems facing the country — and built a grassroots army of supporters that were (and are) the envy of every other Democratic politician.
All of which means that Sanders’ ability to continue to influence the direction of the party is far from over.
What has ended, however, are Sanders’ presidential aspirations.