On Tuesday night, Bernie Sanders got just enough of a positive headline to keep his campaign's momentum rolling, if you can really call it that ― he may still be trailing Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton by hundreds of pledged delegates with very nearly zero hope for that to change, but he did pick up another win, this time in Oregon, and only lost Kentucky narrowly. But a hopeless campaign is just that, and Sanders' pledge to stay in to the Democratic National Convention raises an awkward possibility: will Bernie Sanders' zombie candidacy flip the convention chaos script that everyone predicted?
In other words, will the DNC ultimately be the nominating convention full of tumult, tension and bitter dispute, rather than the GOP convention which for months was being imagined as a contested, wheeling-and-dealing affair? At this point, however much media coverage the so-called "Never Trump" movement gains in the GOP, it's fairly obviously what the party and its base are reacting to Trump's ascendance ― they're lining up behind him, while the clear-cut eventual Democratic nominee is still facing a furious and increasingly conspiratorial opposition, seized with the idea that Sanders has had the nomination stolen from him.
In reality, this could hardly be further from the truth. Sanders trails Clinton in total states won, total pledged delegates (the big one), and the popular vote. Obviously the nomination isn't decided by the popular vote, but if Sanders at least had a lead in that respect, he'd have an argument about the democratic legitimacy of the process. As it stands now, however, he seems to be indicting the system for the oldest reason in the book: he lost.
There are some worthy ideas that Sanders is pushing to reform the Democratic primary system, and that bears mentioning ― while the Democratic superdelegates haven't actually ever been relevant to a nominating race the way he and his campaign have suggested (since their inception in 1982 they've never betrayed the pledged), they do have an inflammatory effect, and could stand to be limited, if not done away with.
But perhaps the most pressing and realistic question right now, with Clinton clearly desperate to start the general election campaign she knows she'll be running, is whether Sanders' intractability is hurting the effort to elect a Democrat in November. And judging by how things are going, it's hard to say he's not with a straight face. It's going to be a startling sight for a national viewing audience if come July, as looks increasingly likely, the GOP convention coronates Trump while the Democrats are still scraping their bloody knuckles over who their nominee should be.
There is a way to stay in a losing race through the end of the primaries and still help the party's cause, to be clear ― Clinton herself laid out that blueprint in 2008, when she stayed in for much longer than needed, snapping up votes long after it was clear that she'd lost. But her trip to the convention wasn't an effort to flip superdelegates and swipe the nomination from its rightful victor, as is increasingly what Sanders and his campaign have been talking about in recent weeks. Rather, she turned in a rousing speech in support of then-Senator Barack Obama's candidacy.
While you could still see something like this out of Sanders, its getting harder and harder to imagine. And even if he did, the extent to which his insistence (despite all available evidence) that he can still win has whipped his supporters into a froth makes you wonder how a Clinton endorsement would even be received. When you're casting your opponent as the corrupt beneficiary of a rigged system, and you feed the idea that you're been cheated when you've actually just come up short, there's no guarantee that your followers will take it well when you eventually say "j/k let's support her." Basically, Sanders may be playing with fire if he truly, earnestly rolls into the convention the way he's describing.
Because if his supporters genuinely believe him when he says he might convince the superdelegates to hand him the nomination on electability grounds, actual voters be damned, you could see a very aggrieved scene when it doesn't work out that way. And if there's even a fraction of the kind of fever-pitch vitriol that transpired in Nevada this week (as well as the shameful harassment of Nevada Democratic Party chairwoman Roberta Lange), the contrast with the Republicans will be stark and potentially damaging.
So many political observers reckoned that we were going to get a frenzied GOP convention and a tidy affair on the Democratic side, but that's not how things are shaking out. If you're a Democrat, the best you can probably hope for at this point is that after the final state contests on June 7th, somebody somehow gets in Sanders' ear and tells him to pack it in and start prepping his endorsement. But from the looks of things, that might be a false hope.