Hey Senator Sanders, the Rationale for Your Campaign Just Died. What's Next?

Senator Sanders, can we talk?

For months now, you've insisted you are leading a people-powered revolution. You are going to shake up Washington and, with millions of like-minded Americans, force your change agenda through a corrupt establishment hostile to your goals.

Time and time again, you've told huge crowds that they were going to change America. And each time you've told them:

"If there's a large voter turnout, we're going to win."

As of March 15th, the Democratic primaries will be almost precisely 50% complete, both in number of contests and pledged delegates awarded. We just finished Super Tuesday, the first and biggest test of a campaign's ability to drive turnout through simultaneous efforts in a dozen states scattered across the country. 

Based on the primaries so far, one thing is clear:

There isn't a large voter turnout. And you're not winning.

Compared to 2008, the last time candidates were vying for an open seat, turnout has been down for the Democrats in every primary so far. In some cases, it wasn't even close.

Even in your adopted home state of Vermont, turnout was down 13% from 2008. In Vermont. That's better than in many of the other contests to date, but down is still down. No one knows you better than the voters of Vermont. And more of them turned out to vote when you weren't on the ballot.

There were some bright spots, however. In Massachusetts, a race that the nation was closely watching, and which you saw as a state you not only should win, but needed to win, turnout was also down, but it came closer to 2008 levels than any race so far.

So there was actually a large turnout in Massachusetts. And you lost.

Tonight the rationale for your campaign died. What do you do next?

After March 15th, you and your campaign team need to do some serious soul-searching. You set out with a proposition about the American electorate, and data has proven it wrong. For months, interviewers and the skeptical electorate have asked the same question over and over, every time you talk about the fundamental change you're going to bring to America: "How?"

And every time, no matter how you're pressed for specifics, your only answer has been, "The people will rise up and make it happen."

Senator Sanders, it's not happening. People aren't rising up. Sure, they're coming out to see you at rallies, and commenting on websites about how great you are, and what a monster Hillary Clinton is; and they're sending you donations, many of them small donations from people who really don't have the cash to spare. You're burning through that cash as fast as it comes in, outspending Clinton in most races which you've lost and a few you've won.

You need to confront one of two possibilities.

One possibility is that you've misjudged America's appetite for revolution. You're running for the nomination of the party that's held the White House for two terms, and still overwhelmingly favors the incumbent president and the change he's managed to bring within the system. The people who are most dissatisfied with the direction our country is heading? They're not Democrats. Democrats like the way the country is being run by one of our own, and know that the real impediment to more and better change is not the money in politics, but the politics of the Republican Party.

In this case, you need to change your messaging now if you're to change the path your campaign is on. Less of the "America is a disastah!" song Trump sings, and more of the "Toward a more perfect Union," our current president has been crooning in a silky Al Green voice. Spend less time telling people how terrible everything is and who's to blame, and more describing what a fairer, more just and equal nation would look like.

The other possibility is that Americans are hungry for the changes you seek, but don't want you to lead it. Your poll numbers kept climbing, and Clinton's falling, until the two of you began debating one-on-one or speaking successively in town halls and forums. When America got a closer look at you, and listened, really listened, to what you were saying, they agreed with you on issues, but were not convinced you were the one who could make it happen as president. They saw your temperament and demeanor and found it wanting. It's not the wrong song, you're just the wrong singer.

In this case, you need to step back and stop making it about you. You should instead build a coalition of current elected officials and aspiring officeholders. Build a slate of candidates for change up and down the ballots across America. Spend the money you're raising on their campaigns this year and continue nurturing new talent. Create the conditions where your ideas can take hold. And be satisfied that even if you're never elected President, someone you've helped to develop will be the one who carries your ideas to the White House, in a nation with a critical mass of elected officials ready to help him or her make them a reality.

Unfortunately, you've had three decades in public office, and you've never demonstrated any real interest in developing others or building a pipeline of like-minded people to change the country from the ground up. You've launched independent parties, but never sustained one. You've never proven effective at building relationships with colleagues and gaining their trust. You talk about "the people" but you think mostly about yourself. 

What you can't continue to do is stoke the anger of a segment of society while failing to deliver results. You've got people so fired up they're sending emails and Facebook messages attacking superdelegates in some truly ugly ways. The people you'd most need to swing to your side in a close race with Clinton are actively repulsed by the energy you've released and which is now being targeted at them. Your fans are insisting that it's "you or bust." They'll never ever vote for a Democrat again if they can't have you. They'll let Republicans further consolidate their grip on our state and federal government, and the people you say you want to help will be the ones hurt the most. I'm pretty damn sure that's not what you want to happen.

So, Bernie, it's decision time for you. What do you want to be your legacy? 

I'll leave you with some words by Gandhi to guide your mediation, Senator Sanders.

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.

I hope you find them useful.

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