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Sanders' Presidential Campaign Had An Impact On Democratic Party


Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign yesterday. And this decision makes former Vice President Joe Biden the Democratic party's presumptive nominee. But Sanders leaves this race having made a big impact on the Democratic Party moving forward. And let's talk about that with NPR's Scott Detrow, who covered the Sanders campaign. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: So Sanders - I mean, we've been saying for a while now it was a long road if he was going to come back in the delegate count. He had a lot of losses. We still haven't seen the results, though, from Wisconsin's primary this week. Why now? Why this decision now?

DETROW: Yeah. Joe Biden built this insurmountable lead over the course of March, and Bernie Sanders insisted on staying in. He talked (inaudible) this yesterday. He said he knows a lot of his supporters wanted him to keep going. He understands that. But Sanders said, ultimately, he realizes that the country is in a big crisis right now. He says President Trump is not capable of leading the country and he just needs to be defeated.


BERNIE SANDERS: I cannot, in good conscience, 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.

GREENE: Amazing we're here, Scott, after just in February - which, I admit, seems like a decade ago - he was really on a roll.

DETROW: Yeah. He - right up until South Carolina and Super Tuesday, this was Bernie Sanders' race to lose. So I want to walk you through what happened with Bernie Sanders' campaign and also the way he shaped the Democratic Party. And looking back on this, I just keep thinking about this one moment the night before the New Hampshire primary. By that point, a lot of Sanders' big rallies were also rock concerts, and he would end his speech introducing the band.


SANDERS: The Strokes.


DETROW: More than 7,000 people had packed a New Hampshire hockey arena that night. Yes, they were there to see The Strokes. But they were roaring at everything Sanders said, including a confident prediction.


SANDERS: Let us have the largest voter turnout in the history of the New Hampshire primary. Let's win this thing. Let's transform America.

DETROW: Sanders' whole campaign was based on the idea he'd inspire young voters, first-time voters to show up at the polls and demand a political revolution. It was the same calculation Sanders made in 2016 when he came out of nowhere to challenge Hillary Clinton. After that race, he never really stopped campaigning and played a bigger and bigger role in the party he never formally joined. Sanders kept pushing for progressive causes and candidates, telling NPR in 2018 he wasn't that concerned with whether they won.


SANDERS: You know, I hope they win; maybe they don't. But if you get 45% of the vote now, next time you may well win. But you got to start somewhere.

DETROW: So Sanders decided to run again in 2020, after four years of driving the policy debate inside the party. Health care was the top issue for a lot of voters. And there was Sanders, unapologetically pushing for big changes, like eliminating private health insurance and replacing it with Medicare for everyone.


SANDERS: Are people going to pay more in taxes? And the answer is, of course, some people will pay more in taxes.

DETROW: Even candidates who opposed mandatory government-run health care, like former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, were framing their arguments on Sanders' terms.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: Now, here's how I would do it. It's very similar. I would call it, Medicare for All Who Want It. You take something like Medicare, a flavor of that - you make it available on the exchanges.

DETROW: Often, the candidate who defines the issues and dominates the early states ends up as the nominee. But after Biden won his first contest in South Carolina, something remarkable happened.


BETO O'ROURKE: I will be casting my ballot for Joe Biden.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: Is vote for Joe...

BUTTIGIEG: To endorse and support Joe Biden for president.


DETROW: Candidate after candidate endorsed Biden, some as they were dropping out of the race. Suddenly, in a two-person contest, Sanders' roughly 30% of the electorate wasn't enough, especially since those first-time voters weren't showing up. On the eve of the Michigan primary, Sanders was almost begging his base to vote.


SANDERS: Tell your friends that you're tired of them complaining about high tuition and student debt and lack of health care and low wages and unaffordable housing. Tell them to stop complaining and to stand up and fight back.

DETROW: It didn't happen. But conceding defeat Wednesday, Sanders said he and his supporters had won the ideological struggle.


SANDERS: In so-called red states and blue states and purple states, a majority of the American people now understand that we must raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, that we must guarantee health care as a right to all of our people, that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuel.

GREENE: Listening to that report there from NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, you're still with us here. Sanders going to support Joe Biden - I guess another big question, will his supporters do the same?

DETROW: Yeah, this is a critical question for whether or not Democrats can win. There is a significant chunk of Sanders' most enthusiastic supporters who are wary of moderates and establishment politicians, and Biden is both. So the questions are, how much does Sanders aggressively campaign for Biden? And how much does Biden work to woo progressive on policy or with his vice presidential pick?

One quick note - Sanders did say yesterday he's going to stay on the ballot in remaining contests in order to have delegates to bring to the convention just to influence the party platform.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.