Sanders' primary defeat was his second after a headline-grabbing anti-establishment run in 2016

By Sean Neumann
April 08, 2020 11:40 AM

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday that he was ending his 2020 presidential campaign after making an “honest assessment” of his chances to win the Democratic Party’s nomination, clearing the way for former Vice President Joe Biden to become the party’s nominee and face President Donald Trump in the November election.

“If I believed we had a feasible path to the nomination, I would certainly continue the campaign but it’s just not there,” Sanders, 78, explained in a video message to supporters on Twitch.

For weeks the Democratic primary has been overshadowed by the novel coronavirus pandemic, which all but froze the race even as Biden had emerged as the clear front-runner following a string of double-digit primary victories in the South, Midwest and Northeast.

“I cannot, in good conscious, continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour,” Sanders explained, saying that the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. has been “exacerbated by a president unwilling or unable to provide any kind of credible leadership.”

Sanders’ primary defeat was his second after a headline-grabbing anti-establishment run in 2016 in which he hoped to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had been the party favorite.

In the end — as with his 2020 bid — Sanders failed to sufficiently expand his core coalition of young and very liberal voters, though he saw increased Hispanic support in his second primary campaign.

While running in 2020, he continued to press the progressive messages that had made him a political star of the left and pushed policies like universal health care and tuition-free college into the center of the Democratic Party.

“You cannot beat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics,” Sanders told supporters after a string of losses on “Super Tuesday” in early March, which opened the path for Biden to win the nomination and saw his campaign make a dramatic comeback after earlier primary losses in February.

On Wednesday, Sanders lauded his campaign’s supporters for helping push progressive ideologies into mainstream American politics.

“Few would deny that over the course of the past five years our movement has won the ideological struggle,” Sanders said, citing an increase in support across the nation for some of his campaign’s most prominent ideas, such as a higher minimum wage and universal healthcare. “It was not long ago that people considered these ideas radical and fringe. Today, they are mainstream ideas and many of them are already being implemented in cities and states across the country. That is what we have accomplished together.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigning in February 2020 ahead of the Nevada caucus.
| Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP/Shutterstock

Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist who hoped to uproot the American political system, had been the Democratic Party’s unlikely front-runner during the first month of the primary season, winning the New Hampshire primary, the Nevada caucus and ending in a virtual tie with former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucus.

Sanders’ ability to energize voters, particularly the youth bloc, also brought on a long list of celebrity endorsements, from pop singers Ariana Grande and Cardi B to model Emily Ratajkowski and actors like Danny DeVito and Kirsten Dunst.

But Sanders saw momentum for his grassroots campaign begin to slow beginning in late February, as Biden surged back on the coattails of a litany of endorsements, support from the party’s moderate voters and a massive turnout from African Americans, who formed a crucial bedrock of Biden’s support.

The former vice president decisively won the South Carolina primary before earning endorsements from some of the Democratic Party’s top names and winning 10 of the 14 states up for grabs on “Super Tuesday.”

Since the Biden campaign’s roaring comeback after South Carolina, he’s received endorsements from former 2020 Democratic candidates like Buttigieg, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and billionaire Mike Bloomberg.

“Joe is running a campaign that has been heavily supported by the establishment,” Sanders told reporters on March 4, the day after Biden’s comeback in the “Super Tuesday” states. “Does anyone seriously believe that a president backed by the corporate world is going to bring about the changes that this country, the middle class, working people desperately need?”

Sanders, a millionaire himself, loudly criticized economic inequality throughout his campaign and often pointed to billionaires like Bloomberg and moderate politicians like Biden as examples of the types of politicians he wants to replace in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Sanders again thanked supporters for joining his campaign’s political fight against a range of inequality.

“Together we have transformed American consciousness as to what kind of nation we can become and have taken this country a major step forward in the never-ending struggle for economic justice, social justice, racial justice, and environmental justice,” he said.

Sanders went head-to-head with Biden in the Democratic primary for all of March, until the coronavirus pandemic all but froze the 2020 presidential race in place, temporarily stopping public campaign events and other political gatherings, forcing the candidates to communicate by video message — as Sanders did again Wednesday.

The two candidates relocated a mid-March primary debate from Phoenix to an empty studio in D.C. as the federal government asked Americans to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 with the world working to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.

“This pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives and every aspect of this campaign,” Biden said on March 17, after winning three more state primaries in Florida, Illinois and Arizona.

Multiple other states postponed their primary contests into the summer, hoping the virus’ threat would have lessened by then. The Democratic National Convention, set for Milwaukee, was also delayed until August.

Sanders began conceding to Biden’s surging comeback throughout March, first saying he and Biden were “neck-and-neck” after the former vice president’s comeback on “Super Tuesday” and then admitting Biden was “doing very well” a week later when Biden won four more state primaries on March 10.

After Biden swept the three state primaries on March 17, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir told The New York Times that Sanders was reassessing his campaign while the primary was set to enter at least a three-week lull due to states rescheduling their primaries amid the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Sanders officially declared the end of his campaign.

“I wish I could give you better news, but I think you know the truth and that is that we are some 300 delegates behind Vice President Biden and the path towards victory is virtually impossible,” Sanders said. “So, while we are winning the ideological battle and while we are winning the support of so many young people and working people throughout the country, I have concluded that this battle for the Democratic nomination will not be successful. And so today, I am announcing the suspension of my campaign.”