One Big Reason Bernie Sanders Must Stay in the Race

Only if he continues his campaign will the Democratic Party reform movement be able to bring resolutions to the convention floor.

Larry CohenMarch 30, 2020

A street vendor attempts to make a sale after Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) canceled his a March 10 campaign rally in Cleveland due to concerns about COVID-19. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Joe Biden sup­port­ers would love to hear that Bernie Sanders is drop­ping out. They ask, what’s the point to con­tin­ue the cam­paign in the more than 20 remain­ing state pres­i­den­tial pri­maries? Yes, as things now stand, Bernie’s chance of reach­ing 1,991 del­e­gates are slim. But Bernie should remain in the race for at least one impor­tant reason.

If delegates at this year’s convention fail to make the Democratic Party reforms permanent, we could be back to business as usual—on superdelegates, caucus and primary voting rules, party registration and much more.

All the rules changes that result­ed from the 2016 move­ment to make the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty more demo­c­ra­t­ic have been writ­ten into the rules for the 2020 con­ven­tion but not for those con­ven­tions in 2024 and beyond.

If del­e­gates at this year’s con­ven­tion fail to make these reforms per­ma­nent, we could be back to busi­ness as usu­al — on superdel­e­gates, cau­cus and pri­ma­ry vot­ing rules, par­ty reg­is­tra­tion and much more. More than 770 auto­mat­ic or superdel­e­gates could again be vot­ing on the first bal­lot for nom­i­nat­ing the Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, and their ear­ly endorse­ments would be includ­ed in news accounts before the first pri­ma­ry. Rules to make any remain­ing cau­cus counts trans­par­ent and includ­ing ear­ly vot­ing would be left to the state par­ties. Rules that require states to wel­come the mil­lions of inde­pen­dent vot­ers to join the par­ty would not be mandated.

With­out action by the DNC con­ven­tion rules com­mit­tee (of which I am a mem­ber) the changes we imple­ment­ed this on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Uni­ty Reform Com­mis­sion (of which I was vice chair) will, fol­low­ing the con­ven­tion, be left to the sole dis­cre­tion of the reg­u­lar par­ty Rules Com­mit­tee. That com­mit­tee is elect­ed by the DNC but with­out any con­nec­tion to this year’s pri­ma­ry results. It con­sists of state par­ty offi­cials and nation­al par­ty oper­a­tives. For exam­ple, with no man­date from this year’s con­ven­tion, in 2021, to keep cur­rent reforms in place, DNC mem­bers would have to vote to strip them­selves of their pow­er to vote on the first bal­lot dur­ing the 2024 nom­i­nat­ing battle.

This year, superdel­e­gates only have a role in the nom­i­na­tion of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date if no can­di­date reach­es a major­i­ty on the first bal­lot. With­out this change, Biden would have had most of the approx­i­mate­ly 750 superdel­e­gates before the Iowa Cau­cus and those num­bers would have been flash­ing on every screen just as they did for Clin­ton in 2016.

If Sanders stays in the race, he will have enough del­e­gates at the con­ven­tion to cross the 25% mem­ber thresh­old on both the Rules and Plat­form Com­mit­tees. Under cur­rent rules, 25% of the com­mit­tee mem­bers can bring a minor­i­ty res­o­lu­tion to the floor to be vot­ed on by the whole con­ven­tion. Reach­ing this thresh­old is crit­i­cal. Com­pro­mise is most like­ly when there is rea­son to do so, so the pos­si­bil­i­ty of intro­duc­ing a minor­i­ty res­o­lu­tion is crit­i­cal to force con­tin­u­a­tion or expan­sion of par­ty reforms. If agree­ment is not reached at the com­mit­tee lev­el we can pro­ceed to the floor, even if it is a vir­tu­al convention.

Sanders now has 890 del­e­gates. Today, 1,750 del­e­gates or near­ly half, remain to be elect­ed in the remain­ing pri­maries. If 1,200 or more Bernie del­e­gates are elect­ed, his total would be about 30% of the 4,000 elect­ed del­e­gates and about 49 Bernie del­e­gates would then be on Rules and Plat­form. 164 com­mit­tee mem­bers are added to each com­mit­tee in exact pro­por­tion to the per­cent­age of the elect­ed del­e­gates pledged to a can­di­date. With those del­e­gates, along with already appoint­ed com­mit­tee mem­bers like me, the Bernie del­e­gates could bring a res­o­lu­tion to the floor.

To achieve this goal, Sanders would need to receive a lit­tle more than 15% of the vote in the remain­ing pri­maries. He will do far bet­ter than that. These addi­tion­al Bernie del­e­gates are need­ed to give Sanders lever­age with the Biden camp, and his del­e­gates lever­age on these com­mit­tees. This will allow the reform move­ment to demand that the par­ty con­tin­ue to become more demo­c­ra­t­ic. It will also allow Sanders’ sup­port­ers to insist on the pas­sage of a pro­gres­sive par­ty plat­form, rather than acqui­esce to the impo­si­tion of a false uni­ty that threat­ens to reverse all we have gained in the past four years. There are crit­i­cal areas where the plat­form will mat­ter includ­ing a path to sin­gle-pay­er health care, a com­mit­ment to end fos­sil fuel invest­ment and lim­it­ing increas­es in the mil­i­tary budget.

Sanders has oth­er rea­sons to remain in the race. Biden’s record on trade, health­care, crim­i­nal jus­tice, the fos­sil fuel indus­try, Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare are all rea­sons that uni­ty must be built on real pow­er shar­ing and noth­ing less. Pow­er shar­ing means pol­i­cy, per­son­nel and par­ty reform. The com­bi­na­tion of Sanders’ own polit­i­cal lever­age and the sup­port from at least 25% of the con­ven­tion del­e­gates means that Biden will need to nego­ti­ate in these areas and not just listen.

In addi­tion, del­e­gate elec­tions in many states also impact par­ty lead­er­ship in the state par­ties. Most of the reform­ers now lead­ing state par­ties began as Bernie del­e­gates in 2016.

Much of the media and many Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers would have us believe that the nom­i­nat­ing process is a coro­na­tion and the par­ty mere­ly a plat­form for fundrais­ing. For their part, many pun­dits view the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty as a vehi­cle for indi­vid­ual can­di­dates seek­ing a polit­i­cal career. In every oth­er democ­ra­cy, polit­i­cal par­ties are a place for real debate on the issues and a way to hold can­di­dates and elect­ed offi­cials account­able. So, for those of us who believe that healthy polit­i­cal par­ties mat­ter and that the defi­cien­cies in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty must be reme­died, we must con­tin­ue to move for­ward with Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty reform. But for that to hap­pen, Bernie must stay in.

Views expressed are the author’s. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not sup­port or oppose any can­di­date for pub­lic office.

Lar­ry Cohen chairs the board of Our Rev­o­lu­tion and is a mem­ber of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee, vice-chair of the Uni­ty Reform Com­mis­sion, and mem­ber of the 2020 con­ven­tion rules com­mit­tee. He is the past pres­i­dent of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca and was a senior advi­sor in the Bernie 2016 campaign.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH