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After his big loss in the New York primary, the path to the presidential nomination has narrowed for Bernie Sanders. The loss marked the end to his momentum after winning eight of the last nine primaries. The phenomenon in which people vote for Hillary because she’s the “winner”—a self-perpetuating cycle—will now accelerate.
But forget the silliness from the Hillary Clinton campaign about Bernie Sanders being too negative and a drag on the Democratic party. There is no reason for Sanders to drop out, or pull his punches. The Democratic race has been cordial to a fault. Plus, Hillary can more than handle herself in the bare-knuckled sport of politics.
Sanders continues to pursue a credible and politically significant campaign.
The results in New York followed a pattern: In open primaries, where the cross-section of voters looks more like the general electorate, Bernie wins. In closed primaries, where party affiliation is crucial, Hillary comes out on top.
Independents, new voters, young people, and people who have no particular loyalty to the Democratic “brand” could not vote in New York on Tuesday. Over three million were shut out of the election because they did not declare themselves Democrats months before election day. That severely hampered Sanders’s chances.
As in the Republican Party, there is a fight going in the Democratic Party this year that will last well beyond the convention in July. It is a battle between a populist insurgent, who poses a real threat to the donor class, and the party establishment. The Democrats are much more likely to settle their fight amicably and with an uncontested nominee.
But what Sanders is doing is important. Without him, the progressive issues he raises would not have become the critical national issues of the 2016 campaign.
This is a fight over the soul of the Democratic party, over the definition of the word “progressive,” and over whether economic justice is an achievable goal or a bunch of idealistic nonsense.
And even if Sanders does not pull off big wins in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Connecticut in the coming week, as well as a likely big victory in Indiana on May 3, there is still the convention, where Sanders will arrive, as my friend John Nichols points out, with a larger share of delegates than any progressive candidate in recent memory, including Jesse Jackson in 1988. Those delegates will fight to make the Democratic party a more progressive party, including through rule changes, debating the fairness of super-delegates, and the language in the Democratic platform.
This year, as the Republicans publicly debate how to defeat the likely winner of their own primaries through arcane convention maneuvering, the issue of democracy and the people’s voice in elections is alive and vibrating.
That movement for democracy, and its challenge to entrenched power, propelled Sanders from an unlikely fringe candidate to a major threat to the Party’s presumptive nominee. That’s huge. And it will not easily fade away.
This is going to lead to more than a debate about convention rules. We are in the midst of a debate about what the Democratic party is and what it ought to stand for.
Just as the campus Democrats have never been the heart and soul of college progressivism, the institutional party, which collects big money and promotes pro-business policies, is not going to lead a progressive revival.
Bernie is talking about something profoundly different. He’s talking about what a country would look like that serves people who have no access to wealth and power. That’s pretty exciting to a lot of people, and the fact that he’s gone as far as he has up against the Democratic party juggernaut tells you something about the potential power of the progressive movement in this country.
Ruth Conniff is editor-in-chief of The Progressive.