Isn’t the Primary Over? Why Bernie Sanders Won’t Quit

Hillary Clinton now has enough delegates, pledged and unpledged, to secure the Democratic presidential nomination. She has won many more votes than Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. So the primary is over, right?

Not yet. Mr. Sanders has not folded his tent. He is still raising money and scheduling appearances. And he has vowed to take his campaign all the way to Philadelphia, where Democrats will gather next month to formally nominate Mrs. Clinton.

So why exactly is Sanders staying in?

Publicly, Mr. Sanders’s position is that he can still win the nomination if he persuades unpledged superdelegates — elected officials, party habitués and various others granted delegate status by virtue of their office or connections — to support him by the time they have to cast their vote at the convention in late July. So far, almost all the hundreds of superdelegates have said they will vote for Mrs. Clinton. None have publicly defected. Few seem likely to do so. But the possibility that they will gives Mr. Sanders a reason to keep campaigning, keep raising money and keep criticizing Mrs. Clinton and the party establishment. That gives him leverage.

What does he want?

In a word, influence. Mr. Sanders sees himself as not only a candidate but the leader of a political movement. To advance that movement, he wants to see his views reflected in the party’s official platform and at the convention. That could mean stronger platform language on the regulation of big banks, or a plank demanding free public college. Mr. Sanders is also seeking changes to the Democratic primary rules, including the abolition of superdelegates — though in the short term he wants their support — and the expansion of “open” primaries in which non-Democrats can vote for Democratic candidates. And he wants to boot two Clinton supporters, the former congressman Barney Frank and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, from their convention committee chairmanships over past criticisms of him.

Like past runners-up, Mr. Sanders will want a prime-time speaking slot at the convention itself, as well as prominent speaking opportunities for some of his supporters. He may wish to have some of his aides installed on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign or on the Democratic National Committee. It is likely that he would want to be consulted on Mrs. Clinton’s choice for a running mate. (Chances are low that she would pick Mr. Sanders himself, but that is what negotiations are for.)

He may even seek a full roll-call vote, in which his hundreds of delegates would seek to nominate him from the floor in Mrs. Clinton’s place.

But he lost. Why would Democrats give him anything?

Because of what he can give them: a vast list of potential supporters whom Mrs. Clinton and other Democrats could mine for votes and money. Young Democrats, in particular, have been drawn to Mr. Sanders this election cycle. His supporters are particularly important to Mrs. Clinton. Recent surveys suggest that anywhere from half to almost three-quarters of those in favor of Mr. Sanders are willing to vote for Mrs. Clinton. She does not need all of them to win the White House. But the more Sanders supporters she can persuade to come to her side, the better her chances will be against Donald J. Trump.

Why would Clinton have a problem with any of that?

Acceding to too many demands may risk tying Mrs. Clinton to positions she does not agree with. There may be some platform requests that could hurt her in a general election. (Proposing a ban on fracking, for example, would be unpopular in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the drilling technique generates lots of jobs and tax revenue.) Mr. Sanders’s representatives have also signaled that they will seek to alter the party’s platform planks on Israel to better reflect the views of Democrats critical of the country’s government, a debate that could provoke a bitter fight within the party. A roll-call vote would show up Mrs. Clinton at a time when she would want to project strength.

Is there any downside for Sanders?

By one accounting, very little. Mr. Sanders, 74, is unlikely to mount another bid for president. His Senate seat seems safe. Senate Democrats, itching to retake the chamber this fall, can hardly afford to shun him. He seems to welcome, rather than fear, the scorn of party leaders. And of course, he isn’t even a Democrat. He is an independent. (He caucuses with the Democrats and is counted as one in the arithmetic for which party controls the chamber.)

But another scenario is epitomized by Ralph Nader. Mr. Nader was a storied consumer crusader when he ran for president as the Green Party candidate in 2000, revered on the left for his activism and principles. But Democrats blamed his presence on the ballot for the close finish in Florida that ultimately allowed George W. Bush to win the state’s electoral votes and, with them, the presidency.

Many Democrats came to view Mr. Nader as an obstreperous, self-aggrandizing spoiler. His stature and influence in liberal circles have suffered significantly as a result. “You don’t want to go out like Ralph Nader,” said Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, who is supporting Mrs. Clinton this year. Mr. Dean said that nobody cared “what Ralph Nader says anymore and people should care what Bernie Sanders says because his message is important.”


Graphic | If You Think the Democratic Primary Race Is Close, the 2008 One Was Even Tighter How the 2008 Obama-Clinton race could inform Sanders’s path forward.

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