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Surrender, Bernie: Ohio Win Won’t Forestall the Inevitable

The sooner he's out, the better prepared Democrats will be in November

Sanders would gain only a small delegate advantage if he is declared the winner in Ohio. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sanders would gain only a small delegate advantage if he is declared the winner in Ohio. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With a CNN town hall beckoning and the audience primed for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders rushed through the speed-dating version of his stump speech Sunday night at the annual dinner of the Ohio Democratic Party.  

Speaking in a raspy shout that a labor agitator might have used in Manhattan’s Union Square in 1911, Sanders hit all the familiar themes of his campaign. The Vermont socialist denounced “disastrous trade policies,” a “corrupt political finance system” and, of course, “a rigged economy.” He repeated his call for “Medicare for all” and promised to forge “a political revolution.”  

The eight-minute speech was akin to a comedian skipping the set ups and going straight for the punch lines. And listening to fast-track Bernie was a reminder that we have heard it all before — and will hear it many times again.  

After Sanders’ stunning upset win in Michigan a week ago, it would be foolhardy to dismiss his chances Tuesday in Ohio, a similar industrial state.  

True, Democratic insiders are reasonably confident that Clinton will come close to matching her 10-percent margin over Barack Obama in the 2008 primary. Former Gov. Ted Strickland (who chaired Hillary’s 2008 Ohio effort and is almost certain to prevail in the Democratic Senate primary, also on Tuesday) said in an interview, “I think she has a message this time that’s more focused on the things that really matter: I’m talking about economic issues.”  

But the Democratic race is not about winning states like Ohio, but about winning delegates, which are awarded proportionally. As a result, Sanders would gain only a small delegate advantage if the networks, with lights flashing and anchors breathless, declared him the winner in Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. (Based on polls and demographics, Florida and North Carolina seem safe for Hillary).  

Clinton heads into the evening with a 215-delegate lead among those selected in primaries and caucuses. And it is almost impossible for Sanders to make up that gap — especially since his breakthrough triumph in Michigan gave him (warning: big number ahead) a 7-delegate edge.  

Unlike the Republicans with their winner-take-all states and robot delegates, the Democrats long ago put a series of speed bumps in the party rules to prevent a Trump-like takeover or even a friendly merger like Sanders is, in effect, proposing.  

Unpledged superdelegates (elected officials and state party leaders) have declared for Clinton by a lopsided 465-25 margin. Also, all Democrat delegates are not legally bound but simply morally obligated to support the candidate on whose slate they ran in the primaries and caucuses.  

What this means is that if — and it is a big if — Hillary were somehow felled by a new scandal or suddenly judged unelectable, the Democrats have an escape hatch. And it’s not named Bernard Sanders. Under these improbable circumstances, the Democrats most likely would turn to Joe Biden as their fill-in standard-bearer.  

Here are eight blunt words that you are unlikely to hear on television tonight: Bernie Sanders will never be the Democratic nominee.  

Sanders almost certainly understands this harsh verdict of political arithmetic, as do the strategists directing his campaign. By persisting in the fantasy that he will be bathed in confetti with arms aloft in triumph at the Philadelphia Convention, Sanders is setting up his enthusiastic, but wide-eyed, largely young supporters for a bitter dose of reality.  

With record small-donor contributions, the streets surrounding the Sanders headquarters in Burlington, Vt., must be paved with gold. Which is why Sanders has more than enough financial resources to continue through the June 7 California primary.  

But money is not the measure of candidacy (just ask Jeb!). Sanders, who only became a Democrat for this presidential race, should be asking himself the existential question: What is the point in continuing? What is the goal in assembling a loud minority of angry delegates in Philadelphia?  

Hillary is too cautious by nature and too concerned about the November election to go much farther to the left in response to pressure from the “Sandernistas.” Platform fights at the convention may keep the Bernie delegates occupied, but the party platform will be forgotten by the time that Democrats check out of their Philadelphia hotels.  

Despite occasional outlandish rumors, Sanders is not vice-presidential material. Clinton, in fact, will almost certainly choose her running mate after consulting the polls and assessing the vulnerabilities of her GOP opponent. If Donald Trump is the nominee, Hillary might possibly go over the center line of politics to consider a moderate Republican who supports the Democratic Party’s litmus test issue of abortion rights.  

Sure, the Bernie brigades will grumble that the Democratic establishment lacks core principles. But the specter of President Ted Cruz picking Supreme Court justices or President Trump letting his id run free in the Oval Office should bring most lefty Democrats in line. After the 2000 memories of hanging chads in Florida, Bernie backers are unlikely to pout until November given the ideology of the likely GOP nominee.  

Sanders can take pride in what he has accomplished in this up-from-nowhere crusade. He has guaranteed that a Clinton administration will not negotiate new trade treaties or publicly cater to Wall Street. His “America” commercial — as uplifting as Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” — will give Democrats goose bumps decades from now.  

But that is as far as it goes for this unlikely avatar of the youth vote. The sooner Sanders surrenders to the inevitable, the sooner Democrats of all persuasions (even socialists) can start preparing for the cataclysmic battle in November.

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and the Washington Post. He is a lecturer in political science at Yale. Follow him on Twitter at @MrWalterShapiro.

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