Analysis: Why Sanders had to suspend his campaign


Marco Rivero

Senator Bernie Sanders was the front-runner for the Democratic nominee for president. Almost overnight, his campaign collapsed.

Inside a crowded venue in the middle of Navy Pier, over 12,000 people were gathered to celebrate the start of a campaign. Every few seconds, the crowd erupted in cheers as campaign surrogates and local activists took turns riling up the crowd. Finally, with the crowd going crazy thanks to a bolstreus introduction by former-state senator Nina Turner, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont made his way on stage to kick-off his 2020 campaign.

The 78-year-old Senator went through his familiar stump speech that had become a staple of his 2016 campaign, having to stop several times due to the excitement of the crowd. As Sanders began to wrap up his speech, hitting hard against fighting special interests, the crowd began chanting his name over and over again. As the crowd chanted his name more and more, Sanders quickly stopped them saying, “No, it ain’t Bernie it is you, it must be you.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-labeled socialist, had the largest grassroots movement in American history behind him. With over 5 million individual donors, a huge network of volunteers, and a message that spoke to the youth of the country, the Vermont Senator was poised to upend the current political zeitgeist of the United States. As leftists across the country worked to push Sanders to the nomination, the conversation had clearly shifted to be almost completely about Sanders’ policies.

While Biden had dominated poll numbers consistently for the majority of the race, a series of losses in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, destroyed Biden’s numbers and pushed Bernie to poll numbers that nearly doubled his rivals. As the fractured centrist field struggled to criticize the progressive tag-team of Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, both Sanders and his movement began pivoting to prepare for the presidential race. 

But the Bernie bust quite literally happened overnight. How did Sanders so quickly go from front-runner to underdog?


After an expected, but critical victory for Joe Biden in South Carolina, both Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race and endorsed the former Vice President the day before Super Tuesday. Bernie went from winning nearly every single state in Super Tuesday, to suffering an electoral loss of the same scale as Jeremy Corbyn’s failed gambit in the British parliamentary elections of 2019. 

Now, Bernie Sanders has officially suspended his campaign, leaving Joe Biden as the presumptive nominee. While Sanders will keep his delegates and still has a chance to win, it’s virtually impossible given both poll numbers and the current COVID-19 crisis which has ended any ability for the Presidential candidates to actively campaign. 

The Bernie bust quite literally happened overnight.

The end of Sanders’ campaign comes as a heartbreaking loss to many people who believed that he was their only hope in the presidency. The 2020 Presidential race will most likely be between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, two options that seem even worse than the option presented in 2016.

As liberal pundits declare the presidential race over due to Biden’s relatively high poll numbers versus incumbent President Donald Trump, a vocal minority of Sanders supporters have committed to not vote for the presumptive nominee in the November election. Though to those supporters it may seem like the entirety of the fault lies within the DNC and the mainstream media, a large part of it can be attested to the movement itself and how it was ran.

Regardless, it’s important to vote for the Democratic nominee no matter who it is for the sake of those who can’t fight for themselves. A common theme of the Sanders campaign was fighting for someone you don’t know, and the fact that many leftists are now planning to not vote possibly putting thousands of people at risk for another four years, goes against the values of progressivism and the Sanders campaign. 

So how did Bernie lose when he had so much going for him?


Many claim that the answer is rather obvious: The party did not agree with the ideas he presented. Despite this however, Medicare for All polled higher than a Medicare program that kept private insurance in every single state in the primary. Not only that, but the platforms that many of the candidates who later endorsed Biden ran on was more in line with Bernie’s progressive views than Biden’s centrist views. Many Sanders pundits have taken to blaming the loss on the Democratic electorate choosing electibility over policies, and while true to an extent, that is not the complete picture. 

The United States is the only major country in the world where Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders could possibly be in the same party. In the UK for example, Sanders would most likely be a part of the Labour party, the many liberals like Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris would most likely be a part of the Liberal Democrats, and Joe Biden would fit in well with either the Lib Dems or even the Conservatives. When one considers the fact that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Prime Minister of the UK, is actually further left than Joe Biden economically, it becomes a lot harder to see why Biden and Bernie are running for the same party. 

This leads to the major issue with the Bernie 2020 campaign: the fact that it had to be a fringe campaign within the Democratic Party even though the base electorate of the party is fundamentally different from Bernie’s base. This put Sanders in a tough position. On the one hand, in order to win, he would have to heavily criticize his rivals for their ineptitude and policies, but at the same time, he still had the responsibility of being able to coalesce around whatever candidate won the nomination.

 This is what led to Bernie being a rather passive debater during the debates. While he did have several good moments throughout the election season, Sanders for the most part refused to deeply criticize his centrist rivals, even calling Biden his friend and saying that any of the candidates could beat Trump. This led to the unique situation where Sanders was merely a target for the centrists, while Sanders’ most fervent supporters held nothing back online and in the polls which led to the rise of the Bernie Bro narrative that the media latched on to. 

In order to win, he would have to heavily criticize his rivals for their ineptitude and policies, but at the same time, he still had the responsibility of being able to coalesce around whatever candidate won the nomination.

Bernie’s lack of decisiveness during debates also led to several narratives being pushed that were plain wrong. Joe Biden and the entrenched establishment did a good job at recontextualizing the race.

In the final Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Sanders was asked why a revolution was better than just reforms. Bernie did not have to accept this narrative as it is difficult to assume that the same basic reforms Biden will pass would not pass in a Sanders revolution or would somehow be forgotten. Sanders also let every candidate hit him hard with how he would pay for his medicare-for-all plan when the status quo of Obamacare would actually cost more than his plan, something that he hardly ever made clear.

Bernie’s failure to recontextualize arguments and properly debate is mostly just due to his personality, and that’s something that becomes a recurring thread when analyzing the problems his campaign made. While Bernie is a very forward thinking person, his actual mindset and style of politics is very antiquated and mirrors the populist union bosses of the 1940s. His very familiar stump speech that he seemed to say in every debate simply did not cut it, and he allowed himself to take a lot of flak that he did not have to take. 

Bernie Sanders is also incredibly stubborn and does not like to play politics. In a New York Times interview, he mentioned that he was not the type of person to call people up, which while appealing to some voters, ended up hurting him when it came to another huge problem with the Sanders campaign: Endorsements.


Despite Sanders’ failure to go after his centrist rivals, the Senator was still on track to win the nomination in what appeared to be a possible landslide. In the end, the triple endorsement of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke, coupled with a lack of endorsement from Elizabeth Warren pummeled Sanders’ lead on Super Tuesday. In Sanders’ defense, in the case of Buttigieg and Klobuchar, there was nothing that he could have done to stop the endorsements. They have always been more pivoted torward’s Biden’s politics, but their endorsements were in no means the end to Bernie. In head to head polling prior to Super Tuesday Sanders beat every one of his opponents, but in order to secure himself a victory in Super Tuesday, he’d need Warren to coalesce the progressive vote with his campaign.

Unfortunately for Sanders, the endorsement from Warren never came.

The three endorsements were obviously extremely strategic. Both Klobuchar and O’Rourke were popular in Minnesota and Texas, respectively, which Sanders was set to win with narrow margins. O’Rourkes endorsement is most likely the reason why Biden managed to edge out Sanders in Texas. In South Carolina, Joe Biden credits the endorsement of Rep. James Clyburn for his comeback victory. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Andrew Yang both also ended up endorsing Biden despite being clear progressives in the race. In the case of Andrew Yang, it appears that he was offered a position within the Biden administration. Given that Elizabeth Warren is now rumored to be a likely candidate for Secretary of the Treasury under a President Biden, her lack of an endorsement prior to Super Tuesday makes a lot more sense. 

While Biden spent his time reaching out to possible endorsers and pushing for the center to unite, Sanders never did much endorsement chasing. Several staffers for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a critical progressive congresswoman, mentioned that they themselves had to prod Bernie’s people to get her to endorse him. The problem is that endorsements are both critical to forming coalitions, and clearly critical to the Democratic electorate. 

Had Sanders capitalized on his clear dominance in the race he could’ve easily gotten the endorsements of a lot of the former candidates

The worst part about the endorsement strategy of the Sanders campaign, was that it did not have to end up this way. In 2019, Sanders and 14 Democratic Senators including Senators Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kristen Gillbrand, introduced Sanders’ Medicare-for-All plan on the Senate floor. Many progressives dismissed these Senators as faux-progressives trying to capitalize on the left gaining traction in the party. Whether or not the senators genuinely supported the legislation doesn’t matter. The party was clearly beginning to fracture towards Sanders’ lane. 

Senator Cory Booker was very critical of Joe Biden during his Presidential run, even implying the former vice president was going senile during one of the debates. Similarly, Julian Castro and Kamala Harris both were extremely critical of Biden with Harris having her now famous “I was that girl” moment versus Biden in the first debate. Most of these Senators endorsed Joe Biden in the end, but had Sanders capitalized on his clear dominance in the race he could’ve easily gotten the endorsements of a lot of the former candidates which would hopefully significantly expand his coalition

Endorsements alone did not destroy Bernie’s potential coalition though, along with a lack of endorsements from any notable political figures, the way many of his supporters acted turned a lot of people off of Bernie. 


In this point in particular, the fault of the blame primarily lies among Sanders’ supporters. While social media may seem separated from reality, due to the nature of primaries, the fraction of the Democratic electorate who actually votes during primary elections tends to be fairly active on Apps like Twitter and Facebook. Sanders’ support base also has a huge amount of its supporters online, which means that interactions between all of these different candidates’ supporters actually did happen a lot over social media. This is where the previous point about aggressiveness comes back up. While, Bernie was way too passive versus his rivals, his supporters on social media were way too aggressive towards other campaigns.

The goal for any Sanders supporter should be to convince as many people within the Party to move toward the left. What does not help that goal is when Bernie’s supporters attack anyone who had even the most minor disagreement against Senator Sanders proposals. Of course, this behavior was not limited to Sanders’ supporters. Ultimately, this was an issue of a very vocal minority within the Sanders movement. This does lead to some criticisms of the modern left, however, and there are some clear problems that are holding the movement back from actually being an effective force.

Firstly, the left despite being the most progressive of the different ideologies, is very antiquated in terms of strategy and rhetoric. Many leftists are still stuck in the past and look to extremely antiquated socialist rhetoric that most of America is still not ready to hear. After 2016, primarily due to Bernie’s relative success against Hillary Clinton, most leftists began to assume that the old Cold War mentality regarding socialism had begun to fade from the United States. While that may be true among the younger generations who never had to grow up during the Cold War, most older Americans still do not accept the label of socialist, and the poll numbers clearly show that. Additionally pointing to social democracies like Norway and Denmark, does not work either. Americans, even within the Democratic party, like their movements to be inherently based off of American values and American patriotism. Instead of pointing like countries in Scandinavia, both leftists and Bernie should point to our own country. 

There are some clear problems that are holding the movement back from actually being an effective force.

The United States has a rich history of progressivism with multiple presidents who pursued policies that were pro-worker and pro-nationalization. If leftists want their ideals to spread, then they can not introduce it as an inherently foreign idea: They have to introduce it as a part of America’s rich history resurging.

Bernie at the beginning of the race did a good job at comparing himself to FDR, but he did not pursue it nearly as much as he needed to. Similarly, Democratic-Socialists and other leftists online typically only present a romanticized version of radicalized revolutionaries, which might seem cool if you are within the movement, but would obviously be problematic for people looking from the outside in. 

Finally, too many activists in the left seem like they would rather keep the left as an exclusive club that only the most “intelligent” of the electorate can join. These activists and pundits have shackled themselves to the movement and often times would rather see progressives take an electoral loss, than lose the right to call themselves the most pure of the Democrats. These are the the more stereotypical Bernie Bros which the media typically refers to. These types of leftists are huge ideologues leading to the ride of the Bernie or Bust movement which threatened to not vote for the nominee unless it was Bernie.

Bernie already had to deal with the fallout of 2016’s loss for the Democrats. While fewer Bernie supporters flipped to Trump than Hillary supporters flipped to McCain in 2008, it is true that the fact that many stayed home and chose not to vote at all had adverse effects on the election.

Once again, the same Bernie or bust movement is beginning to form among a sizable minority of Sanders supporters. This time though, the supporters have cited an alleged sexual assault claim that former Biden staffer, Tara Reade made. The Biden campaign has denied the claims, but there is no reason to believe the claim is not credible. Given the history of Biden’s uncomfortable advances on women, which he apologized for in the beginning of 2019, a claim like this is definitely worth looking into. 

Once again, the same Bernie or bust movement is beginning to form among a sizable minority of Sanders supporters.

Yes, a vote for Biden is not an ethical vote given these claims. For leftists living in safe states like Illinois, voting third party for the Presidential ticket and voting blue for the rest of the down ballot would be an ethical and intelligent choice.

However, refusing to vote for Biden in one of the swing states knowing that by doing so Trump gets closer to winning the election is just as unethical as a vote for Biden. Why? Leftists like to argue that neo-liberalism leads to fascism because of a lack of stance from the liberals. In their view, by refusing to take a side, liberals allow fascist movements to rise and will sometimes even protect said movements for the sake of individual liberties. This is true, but the same is also true for radicalized ideologues who refuse to vote for the clear better option when presented between an administration quickly moving to authoritarianism and a neo-liberal centrist. 

No, Biden is not the same as Trump. Pretending like he is comes from a point of privilege that many minorities across the country do not have. This Presidential ticket is not by any means ethical but they seldom are, however, when the Trump administration’s Department of Justice attempted to get emergency powers that would allow them to jail anyone with no fair trial, and the administration’s Department of Homeland Security succeed in giving border patrol emergency powers to deport nearly 10,000 immigrants with no trial since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. There is a clear better option between the two candidates. 

Of course, the never Biden movement and the Bernie or bust movements didn’t help Sanders’ image, but while it does explain why it was so hard to form coalitions, it doesn’t explain why Sanders’ current coalition failed. Sanders is polling at 70% among college students across the country, yet younger voters did not show up to the polls when it mattered. Similarly Bernie won over Latinos and Muslims in droves, but both failed to give him a win since both groups are relatively small, though Latinos did push Bernie to victory in California and made him extremely competitive in Texas.

So why was Bernie’s coalition not motivated to vote? 

As mentioned before the Bernie base and the Democratic base might as well be two separate parties. Similarly, rhetoric works a lot differently for the Democratic base than it does for the Bernie base. Bernie’s anti-establishment message infused with leftist populism won over minorities and independents in droves. Bernie won independents in almost every single state in Super Tuesday despite his loss. This is where the fault lies less with Bernie and more with the system. 

Why was Bernie’s coalition not motivated to vote?

While Bernie did not misjudge the national mood, he did misjudge the mood of the Democratic Party. The entrenched establishment still exists to this day for a reason, and that is because the white suburban base of the Democratic party. In other words, while a significant portion of the Democratic Party’s electorate are leftists or support leftist policies, many of the people that Bernie was reaching out to are the underprivileged, while the portion of the Democratic Party that has the actual time and energy to vote is typically middle to upper-middle class Americans. This is the same sort of thing that’s seen in cities where despite minorities and the poor make up the larger share of the population: most don’t vote simply because they don’t have the time to follow politics. 


Additionally, the Democrats who voted in the primaries still watch a lot of mainstream news. This is another difference that leftists tended to overlook initially but one that ended up doing a lot of damage to Sanders in the end.

Networks like CNN and MSNBC do not actually do much reporting. More often, they just give political takes reacting to the news rather than just giving the plain facts. MSNBC’s Chris Mathews had to apologize and later resigned following him comparing Sanders’ win in Nevada to the Nazis taking Paris in World War 2.

In short, the media does have a noticeable anti-Sanders bias, which ultimately led to them allowing a little win in South Carolina turn into a national comeback, when it really wasn’t. 

While some may be skeptical at the power of the media, there is one obvious example of just how much influence they have. Following the Iowa caucus, the Democratic debate prior to New Hampshire had Klobuchar give a better than usual performance. The media spun this as a comeback for Klobuchar and declared her the winner of the debate giving her endless positive coverage for a few days. A few days later Klobuchar went from polling at 8% in New Hampshire to jumping to nearly 20% beating both Biden and Warren. Manufactured consent is real, and had a lot of power in this election.


Aside from the media, the Democratic establishment played the biggest role by far in granting Biden his win. As surprised as everyone was about Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s drops, both Klobuchar and Buttigieg were probably just as surprised to learn they’d have to drop as well.

Aside from the media, the Democratic establishment played the biggest role by far in granting Biden his win.

While Buttigieg claims that his decision to drop out was his own, the fact that he had set clear fundraising goals all through the weekend toward Super Tuesday, and had campaigned enough to make him viable in several states tells a different story of his plans. It later came out that former President Barack Obama called all three endorsers of that night prior to their endorsements and drop outs. 

While a lot of the fault does lie in the leftist coalition Bernie formed, it is important to note the numerous logistical and societal challenges that challenging the Democratic establishment brought.

In the end Sanders’ lack of motivation to play politics is what led to his downfall thanks to the establishment’s quick and sudden moves to destroy the Sanders campaign.


Now, members of the left are left wondering where they go from here, Sanders will be well into his 80s by 2024 so another run from him seems impossible at this point. 

While the left is not new to disappointment, this loss hurts more than the others, but it is important to remember the movement did not start nor end with Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ work towards the progressive movement has changed political history in the United States forever, hopefully for the better. Ultimately, whether or not the progressive movement ever sees success in the United States, is up to the many activists and voters who Bernie has inspired over the last 8 years.