On Wednesday, two-time presidential Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders announced that he would conclude his bid for the party’s nomination, marking an end to a deeply influential political campaign that championed systemic progressive reforms and reframed the nation’s political conversation as a whole.
“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,” Sanders said in a live stream Wednesday morning.
In states with remaining primaries, the former candidate will stay on the ballot in an effort to exert ongoing influence on the Democratic Party as it moves toward nominating former Vice President Joe Biden. “While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not,” Sanders said.
Sanders built momentum quickly in the 2020 race, with strong early showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, but his momentum was upended when Biden surged back in South Carolina in late February. With the remaining centrist candidates dropping out in quick succession just before Super Tuesday, a blitz of support recharged the lagging Biden campaign as Sanders struggled to build a winning coalition. After Super Tuesday, it became clear that the Sanders campaign was not driving record turnout among young voters, a critical metric for the campaign’s success.
More than any candidate, Sanders reshaped the Democratic race — and often the entire political conversation — pushing the party left with a tireless message of fair wages, universal healthcare and financial reform. It’s not a stretch to argue that the policies core to the Sanders campaign could have provided some protection for the U.S. against the existential threat it’s facing now, with record unemployment, dangerous working conditions for hourly and gig workers and uninsured Americans left out in the cold.
With Elizabeth Warren out of the race, Sanders appeared to pose the last major Democratic threat of sweeping reform to the tech industry, though some comments from Biden in January suggest otherwise. Biden hasn’t suggested that regulating tech would be a central priority for his presidency, but he has stated that breaking up big tech is “something we should take a really hard look at,” without making any firm commitment to do so. Biden also said that he believed tech platforms should no longer be shielded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a deeply controversial policy stance that could upend some of tech’s biggest businesses while causing a cascade of side-effects that could prove extremely consequential for a broad swath of the internet and its users.
Over the last few years, the tech industry has faced intense scrutiny for its monopolistic tendencies, questionable labor practices and the failure of social media platforms to prevent Russia from interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree that tech needs to be held responsible for its failings, their motivations and proposed reforms don’t always overlap. With Sanders out, Biden will likely be building out his policies with more clarity, and we’ll be following those developments closely.
Sanders’ exit from the 2020 race marks the end of an era, even if his ideals live on in future candidacies. From 2016 to 2020, no Democratic political figure exerted as much influence from the outside, completely transforming the national political conversation. And even out of the race, the leftmost wing of the party Sanders championed continues to wield influence as the 2020 race marches on — influence Biden would be smart to court to expand his support beyond the moderate coalition that paved his way to the nomination.