Friday, March 13, 2020

Sanders may be setting up an honorable 'off-ramp'- losing on electability but winning on ideas

After yesterday’s post here from Dana Milbank, Will Sanders unite behind Biden or play the angry old man out to spoil the election for Dems, here is a less harsh assessment, also at the Washington Post. Bernie Sanders sounds like he may be giving himself an off-ramp posts Aaron Blake at the Washington Post (“The Fix”).

After Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suffered more big losses in Tuesday’s primaries and declined to address his supporters that night, speculation turned to whether he might bow out of the race. The math is very, very difficult for the independent senator from Vermont, and generally you want to project resolve in moments like that.

Sanders said Wednesday afternoon he’s pressing on. But even in those remarks, you could sense a potential off-ramp for him and his campaign.

At the end of his remarks, Sanders said he looked forward to debating “my friend Joe Biden” on Sunday in Arizona. He then listed a bunch of questions he would be asking the former vice president at the debate. Among them:

  • What will Biden do about 500,000 people who go bankrupt thanks to medical debt and those who pay 20 percent of their income toward health care?
  • Would Biden really veto Medicare-for-all legislation?
  • How will he respond to scientists who say we have seven to eight years to do something about climate change before the harm becomes irreparable?
  • How will he address college affordability and student debt?
  • What will he do about mass incarceration and a “racist criminal-justice system?”

And so on. You get the idea. Sanders essentially was saying he will press Biden on some of his cherished issues and demand specifics.

One explanation is Sanders is throwing down the gauntlet on where he thinks Biden comes up short as a potential Democratic nominee. Sanders could be setting up a contrast between their two candidacies now that it’s a one-on-one debate.

Another, though, is he’s giving Biden the opportunity to give Sanders peace of mind about exiting the race.

It’s not clear which one it is. But as a debate strategy, if Sanders does press Biden on these questions, giving him four days to prepare would seem generous. It’s a great way to get canned answers and make sure Biden is prepared for what’s coming. These topics shouldn’t surprise Biden, given how much Sanders has focused on them. But it’s notable that Sanders is framing it this way rather than simply arguing Biden’s answers on these topics have been insufficient. It’s a gentler way of broaching the subjects.

To the extent Sanders doesn’t see a path forward, perhaps before he can get out of the race in good conscience, he needs Biden to make policy concessions on the record. That way he can argue he pulled Biden in his direction and affected Biden’s general-election priorities.

In the same remarks, Sanders emphasized his policies were winning, even if his candidacy wasn’t.

“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” Sanders said. “I cannot tell you how many people our campaign has spoken to who have said, and I quote, ‘I like what your campaign stands for, I agree with what your campaign stands for, but I’m going to vote for Joe Biden because I think Joe is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump.’

"I’m not a masochist who wants to stay in the race that can’t be won,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But right now, that’s a little bit premature.”

In his remarks Wednesday, he seemed to suggest he’ll keep the ultimate goal — beating President Trump — in perspective.

Let me conclude the way I began: Donald Trump must be defeated, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen,” Sanders said. “On Sunday night in the first one-on-one debate of this campaign, the American people will have the opportunity to see which candidate is best positioned to achieve that goal.”

Remember – As Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a Sanders supporter, said this week: “Bernie Sanders won the idea primary.”

And that’s not a bad off-ramp.

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