Susan J. Demas: What’s Next For Bernie Sanders?

This column ran in Dome Magazine.

Bernie Sanders says he’s not going anywhere. And why should he?

It’s true that his most significant victory arguably remains Michigan’s March 8 primary, which was a month ago. That wasn’t because of the size of his win –– he actually only walked away with four more pledged delegates than Hillary Clinton.

Sanders has actually scored much bigger margins of victory in the New Hampshire primary and a spate of caucus states, like Washington, Kansas and Hawaii.

But Michigan’s significance is that it’s the biggest state Sanders has won –– and he wasn’t supposed to. The polls and pundits (including me) predicted a Clinton rout. So it’s a huge moral victory for supporters, who took to using the #StillSanders hashtag even after Clinton swept the series of big March 15 primaries.

Many remain utterly convinced that the “Michigan miracle” is proof that Sanders can continue to defy the odds –– and snotty critics.

In reality, Sanders is unlikely to be the Democratic nominee. Naturally, plenty of Clinton supporters would like him to go gently into that good night and magnanimously endorse her, which is wishful thinking, to say the least. That’s not Sanders’ style. He’s already announced a number of conditions for his blessing –– if it comes to that.

Unfortunately, too many Sanders supporters believe the only reason he won’t be on the Nov. 8 ballot is because of some nefarious Democratic National Committee plot. But while it’s clear that the party brass favors Clinton, there’s no conspiracy.

Sanders’ worst enemy is math. He trails significantly in the pledged (not superdelegate) tally, as Clinton has padded her margin with big wins in states like Florida, Mississippi and South Carolina. And now there just aren’t that many states left to vote in the primary process.

But I don’t think Sanders should drop out. He’s raised issues that too many politicians of both parties have ignored, like income inequality, poverty and myriad corporate tax loopholes. That’s commendable.

It’s also significant that he’s brought new voters into the process. These are the folks who should be running for precinct delegate and their city council –– and I hope they do.

Sanders has inspired a new generation of liberal voters –– his frenzied crowds at Eastern Michigan University and Michigan State University attest to that. His blunt rhetoric has struck a chord, thundering that the system is rigged against them, as they’re buckling under crippling student loan debt while Wall Street fat cats smugly purchase third homes.

There is something endearing about watching college students get starstruck over a 74-year-old self-described democratic socialist.

For years, Democrats have fretted about the enthusiasm gap with Republicans, thanks to irascible tea partiers (in part, because Dems panic about everything). But just look at midterm election results in 2010 and 2014, when millions of Democratic voters stayed home. Republicans don’t take elections off.

So it’s understandable why Team Sanders makes the case that he would be the strongest Democratic nominee by bringing in passionate voters, much like Barack Obama did in 2008. But interestingly, Gallup just found that Clinton’s supporters are actually more enthusiastic than Sanders’ are (although Donald Trump bests them both in that metric).

Sanders also is fond of citing his virility in polling (as does Trump), especially those showing he does better against potential GOP nominees than Clinton. On the GOP side, John Kasich tries the same trick in reverse. But the reality is that Kasich and Sanders haven’t been bloodied as much as frontrunners Clinton and Trump, so their numbers are artificially high.

That dovetails with most Republicans making the calculation that they’d rather run against Sanders in November –– they plan to transform him from shouty, but kindly grandpa into murderous communist dictator Joseph Stalin in few days flat. Republican operatives have meticulously fed Sanders supporters oppo research against Clinton, and attacks against her character have been particularly effective.

Trying to pick your opponent is an age-old trick, Bloomberg News notes, and Democrats do it, too. They’d much rather run against Trump or far-right Ted Cruz than the more moderate Kasich. Of course, the Dems haven’t had to play very much, as Trump relishes taking attacks to the extreme, from ridiculing “Little Marco” Rubio to revealing health issues about Cruz’s wife.

Even if Republicans don’t get Sanders as the nominee, they can always hope that his disillusioned supporters stay home this fall. There’s a burgeoning #BernieOrBust movement, much like the 2008 pro-Clinton Party Unity My Ass (PUMA) crowd.

Usually, any intraparty disgruntlement isn’t widespread enough to make a difference. Nowadays, partisans tend to coalesce around their nominee after even the bitterest primaries.

You’d also think Sanders would shudder at the idea of a Trump presidency, and believe that any GOP nominee’s agenda would widen the chasm between rich and poor, turn back the clock on LGBT rights, and further open the dark-money spigot into politics.

But it’s not clear that Sanders, an independent who only joined the Democratic Party when he launched his presidential bid, will be a team player. Just like it’s not clear that Republican hopefuls would campaign for Trump.

So far, 2016 has been anything but a typical election year. And this could be just the start.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at Follow her on Twitter here.