War Stories

Drop Out, Bernie

For public health, for party unity, and for his own political future, it’s time for Sanders to make a graceful exit.

Bernie Sanders giving a speech to a large crowd.
Sen. Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally on March 8 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Brittany Greeson/Getty Images

It was already past time for Sen. Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race for president, but now he can say he’s doing it to save hundreds, possibly thousands, of lives.

Two dozen Democratic primaries remain before the July convention (if there is an actual convention). Each of them will violate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines against gatherings of more than 10 people in a confined public space. If Sanders withdraws, rendering those primaries moot, he will prevent the coronavirus from spreading across thousands of precinct stations and their surrounding neighborhoods nationwide.

Sanders could thus turn an admission of defeat into a noble stance of self-sacrifice for the health of the nation.

It would be one thing if Sanders still had a plausible path to the nomination. But Joe Biden’s margin of delegates is all but insurmountably wide, and the primaries that remain—in such states as Pennsylvania, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey—will only widen that lead.

Dropping out now, instead of waiting to suffer the calamity of more double-digit losses, would also allow Sanders to retain some dignity—and, more to the point, political leverage. In exchange for his early concession, he could ask for a half-hour of prime time at the convention (again, if there is one), a few planks on the party platform, a Cabinet slot if he wants one, or an important committee chairmanship if the Democrats retake the Senate.

Biden’s recent endorsement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan for a new bankruptcy law (which goes against the one that he helped pass several years ago) was a sign of his pliability. It’s also one of several gestures that he’s been making to bring the party’s left wing back into its orbit. If Sanders moves quickly, he could make it more likely that he, and not Warren, would be treated as the leader and arbiter for that wing.

The contest for the Democratic nomination is essentially over. Sanders can growl and scowl and keep talking about things that Biden voted for or against 25 years ago, and thus delay—possibly block—the unification of the party, accomplishing nothing except boosting the chances of Donald Trump’s reelection and endangering public health. Or he can smile, stand side by side with Biden, and emerge as a powerful mensch.