Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio defied a state Supreme Court decision and cancelled his state’s primary election on March 17, citing “health concerns.” Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, whom I greatly respect, said he’s been working with DeWine, knows him well, and is confident that his decision was based on the right reason: the desire to protect the health and safety of the people of his state.
So although there’s plenty of political shenanigans around, the Ohio primary cancellation doesn’t seem to have been one of them. That’s the good part.
The bad part is that DeWine’s decision sets a dangerous precedent—as historian Michael Beschloss confirmed on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show. When we get into the business of cancelling elections, we’re entering new territory fraught with negative implications for our democracy, which has been suffering mightily in the past several years.
The coronavirus has demonstrated that we are all interconnected and interdependent: We’ll have to work together to get through this pandemic that is threatening us now—and to deal with the unprecedented dilemmas it is posing.
Based on nearly all sources, who now include a recalcitrant President Trump (!), the pandemic will surely worsen over the next several months. Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their primaries. It seems to be time to consider how important the remaining primaries are to our democratic process.
There is only one person who should make that decision: Bernie Sanders.
As of March 18, he faces a nearly insurmountable delegate deficit. Former Vice President Joe Biden has won 1165 delegates; Sanders’ tally is 880. The odds of his success are slim to none. After losing the primaries in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona by large percentages, Bernie is now “reassessing his campaign,” according to current reports.
If he decides that it is irresponsible to continue seeking delegates through the primaries because people’s lives will be at risk going to vote in primaries that won’t change the outcome—and suspends his campaign—he will be demonstrating a degree of reality-based unselfishness that will earn him a solid place in history.
In contrast, if he continues to campaign in whatever way he can, he will divert Biden from focusing his sole attention on President Trump’s massive failures, delay whatever reconciliation is possible between his supporters and Biden, and increase the chances that the most inept and harmful president ever may somehow win another four years.
Bernie’s place in history may then be as the spoiler who increased the possibilities of our democracy failing. I’m sure that is not the legacy he wishes. He has committed to voting for and campaigning for Biden, stating that defeating President Trump is the most important issue.
He can still play an active role in pursuing his ideas and ideals; he has already moved Biden to the left on education. But I hope he realizes that the primaries—and Biden’s increasingly large victories—have demonstrated that this is a center-left country.
Based on all the votes cast in the primaries to date, it’s now time for the battle of ideas among Democrats to cease in order to form a cohesive strategy to defeat Trump, hold the House, and retake the Senate.
Biden recognizes where he must be to forge what has so far been a winning coalition. If Bernie pushes too far, he risks validating those among his supporters who will refuse to vote for Biden because they view him as too much a part of the “corrupt establishment.”
I hope, therefore, that Bernie will soon announce the suspension of his campaign and devote his energies to ensuring that the Senate passes substantive legislation that will provide immediate and ongoing assistance to Americans in need due to the impact of the coronavirus.
And I hope that along the way, he will be able to convince many (most?) of his supporters that their vote for the man he calls “my friend Joe” is right and necessary.
We have Republicans in the Senate today sounding like Socialists (shhhhhh!), saying they’re ready to send dollars to the public.
We have a public that, after decades of accepting the Republicans’ fraying of the safety net, finally realizes due to the absence of good management and wise decision-making how very important the federal government is.
(With regard to the above point, I urge you to read this extremely important article in the Washington Post by Stuart Stevens, a now contrite Republican consultant, on the damage his party has wreaked on this nation, leading inevitably to our current crisis.)
In the midst of the horror we’re experiencing, if Bernie now declares he’ll no longer participate in the primaries, he can take pride in the role he’s played in changing people’s views. He just hasn’t succeeded to the point that they’re ready for his revolution.