Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders waves to the crowd during a campaign stop in Missouri last week. After losing Missouri and four other states on March 15, calls have increased for Sanders to quit his race against Hillary Clinton. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- Some top voices in liberal politics who remained silent through much of the presidential race as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders built a credible challenge to Hillary Clinton are beginning to throw cold water on the idea the party is "feeling the Bern."
Sanders was a niche political figure -- a democratic socialist from the liberal haven of Vermont -- who has built a national political movement and become a darling of the left rallying hugely enthusiastic supporters with his call to end social and economic injustice in America. He has gone from a lawmaker with no national name recognition to garnering an impressive 6.7 million votes in the Democratic primary prior to Tuesday night. He continues to convince hundreds of thousands of average Americans to make financial and personal commitments to his campaign.
And yet, he trails the Democratic front-runner Clinton badly in the race for pledged delegates. And the superdelegates he needed to cross the finish line and win the party's nomination have flocked to her campaign in droves. Given he has little more than a mathematical possibility to win the nomination at this point and as their primary race continues to grind on, the calls are coming more frequently for Sanders to begin winding things down.
The calls have grown louder in the week since Sanders went 0-for-5 in March 15 elections. And while Sanders and his advisers have pointed out the primary calendar moving forward now favors him, detractors, many of whom still speak in sympathetic terms about Sanders, say there simply is not enough time -- or uncommitted delegates -- left for him to make up the deficit. While he picked up 35 delegates between wins in Idaho and Utah on Tuesday night, but failed to nab the majority of votes in Arizona, which gave Clinton 41 delegates to Sanders' 22.
The calls have come from Clinton supporters, influential writers, and, at least in private, from the most prominent uncommitted Democrat in America: President Barack Obama.
The question is whether Sanders will listen.
The chorus began publicly on Monday, when Politico published a story quoting a dozen of Sanders' fellow Democratic senators, all of whom agreed that he was likely to lose the nomination to Clinton, who has yet to lock up the nod, but is on course to do so later this spring.
Many of the lawmakers said they respect Sanders' right to continue campaigning. He remains financially viable, relying on small-denomination donations from individuals online. His message remains a powerful one with the party base. And if that were all he was doing -- rallying support for core Democratic issues -- many of the lawmakers say they would accept that.
But among Clinton supporters in the party establishment, they see the continued critique of Clinton's record on free trade and her ties to Wall Street as beginning to carry real weight with voters, and they say it could create a drag on turnout in a general election if liberals frustrated by the primary do not show up to vote in November.
Of particular concern for Clinton allies is the fact Sanders, a career outsider in Washington, is viewed by many voters as highly credible. Pair that with perhaps Clinton's greatest vulnerability, her trustworthiness, which voters have hedged on for much of her political career, and Sanders continuing to point out holes in Clinton's record could have lasting effects.
The subtext is clear: If not quit the race, party veterans believe at least it is time for Sanders to stop attacking Clinton's record so the party can unite to focus on defeating Donald Trump if he is the Republican candidate for president in the fall.
"What's important is not whether or not [Sanders] gets out, but how he campaigns," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a Clinton supporter, told Politico. "If the contrast is now about what separates us from Donald Trump, then I think it's fine. I just hope that we can begin to focus on unifying because obviously a lot of us are perplexed that we could be facing a country led by someone who seems to be a buffoon."
According to a report last week in The New York Times, that was much the same message Obama delivered to a group of the party's largest financial donors in a private fundraiser in Texas.
The White House, which has been careful about not appearing to favor its own former secretary of state, later walked back Obama's comments, which some in the room took to be a tacit endorsement of -- and a frank discussion about -- Clinton's campaign.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reaffirmed Obama's neutrality in the race when asked about the comments, and repeated the need for party unity once the primary is over.
"We need to be mindful of the fact that our success in November in electing a Democratic president will depend on the commitment and ability of the Democratic party to come together behind our nominee," Earnest said.
Sitting presidents are generally loathe to wade into the fight to replace them after eight years in office, keenly aware of their role as a unifying figure for the party once a new standard-bearer is selected.
Such is not the prerogative of Internet commentators, who are not as burdened by political niceties.
In an op-ed in The Hill on Tuesday, Markos Moulitsas, the founder of the influential liberal blog Daily Kos, called on Sanders to quit the race, saying his presence was no longer helpful to the party's larger goal, to keep the White House for another four years.
Given the only hope Sanders has is to ask the party to essentially ignore primary voters who have cast roughly 2 million more ballots for Clinton than Sanders prior to Tuesday's contests in three states, Moulitsas concluded Sanders should bow out.
"In short, the Sanders campaign is now making the same argument it was decrying just a few months ago -- that Democratic superdelegates should subvert the choice of the Democratic electorate to hand the nomination to the primary loser. It was an absurd argument when Clinton made it in 2008, and it's no less absurd today. And if anyone was a beneficiary of such usurpation of the will of the voters, it certainly wouldn't be an outsider like Sanders."