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Opinion No surprise: Bernie Sanders is still all about himself, never the party

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic candidate for president, in Burlington, Vt., on Wednesday. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

It should surprise no one who watched the 2016 Democratic primary that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — after getting drubbed for the second consecutive week and losing every county in Mississippi, Missouri and Michigan — should decide to stay in the race, pursuing a hopeless campaign and taking money from his supporters. It is what he does.

At a news conference in Burlington, Vt., he conceded the obvious — “we are currently losing the delegate count” — but insisted he is winning the policy debate and the “generational debate.” I’m not sure what the latter means, since his wave of young voters never materialized and former vice president Joe Biden is winning everywhere, even college towns. Biden could say he is winning the race, gender, married, unmarried, college-educated and non-college-educated debate. He is winning. Period.

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Sanders says he wants to do nothing to impair the party’s effort to throw out President Trump. Nevertheless, the senator’s online mob continues to spread disinformation about Biden, and his own staff calls Biden “corrupt” and makes false allegations (e.g., the former vice president wants to cut Social Security — which he does not). Sanders also posed a list of issues he would like Biden to address at the next debate (e.g., health care, climate change, racial equality). Biden will say what he has said all along, laying out his progressive but practical vision.

Sanders’s remaining in the race should serve several salutary purposes for the party and the country. First, seeing him lose overwhelmingly week after week will dispel the notion that the Democratic Party has moved left, or that he is in a dominant position to negotiate with the overwhelming winner. It’s not clear why the Biden camp should “give” Sanders anything.

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Second, it is good to keep Biden in fighting form, continuing to boost turnout and showing, as he did in Philadelphia, how presidential he is. Biden can pivot to the general election, essentially ignoring Sanders. (His planned speech on the coronavirus is the perfect opportunity to leave Sanders out of the discussion entirely.)

At the debate, we will see whether Sanders attacks Biden, contradicting his stated intention to pull the party together and beat Trump. Whatever Sanders does, Biden should stay the course. He should stick to his pledge to expand Obamacare, pursue an aggressive agenda to halt climate change, reiterate his record fighting the National Rifle Association (which Sanders cannot match), recommit to immigration reform (which Sanders voted against in 2007), and generally remind voters that his agenda is progressive; it’s just not needlessly provocative or unattainable.

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The canard perpetrated by the left and carried by the gullible mainstream media is that Biden is hostile to the progressive agenda. Actually, he is the only conceivable vehicle for passing it, just as President Barack Obama was the one to fulfill the Democrats’ decades-old goal of health coverage for non-elderly, able-bodied adults.

Whoever is to replace Sanders as the standard-bearer for the left — hopefully someone as smart and wonky as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — will need to learn how to win elections. (Hint: It is not by scaring voters or attaching oneself to the socialist label.) When in office, a new generation of leaders on the left will need to learn the art of deal-making rather than waste years, as Sanders has, rabble-rousing but accomplishing nothing. Unlike Sanders, Warren (or whoever else takes the reins) will not be burdened by a record of reflexively praising dictators nor be driven to attack fellow Democrats.

Sanders will end the race at some point, a diminished figure. In retrospect, his wins in 2016 will be seen more as an anti-Hillary Clinton vote than a pro-Sanders vote. How he behaves at Sunday’s debate will determine whether he leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Democrats.

Republican Tommy Blackwood of North Charleston, S.C. wants President Trump to stay in office, so he's trying to disrupt the Democratic primary race. (Video: The Washington Post)
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