It’s time to drop out now, Bernie, before coronavirus muddies upcoming primaries

Remaining primaries, including Tuesday’s in Illinois, will be diminished, but Joe Biden effectively has won the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders should grant him a clean victory so both can focus on ousting Donald Trump.

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sander, delivering a campaign update on Wednesday, March 11, in Burlington, Vermont.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders

Scott Eisen/Getty Images

If Sen. Bernie Sanders really cares about running Donald Trump out of the White House in November, he should drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination now.

Sanders should not wait until after Tuesday’s four primaries, when he almost certainly will lose the two biggest states, Illinois and Florida.

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Barring the unforeseeable, Sanders is beat. He cannot win his party’s nomination. Joe Biden has whupped him fair and square in a string of primaries, collecting 838 convention delegates to Sanders’ 691. The odds lean heavily in Biden’s favor in the major primaries yet to come.

Sanders and Biden should be joining forces to upend Trump, not prepping for a scheduled debate against each other on Sunday.

And now comes the coronavirus, threatening to muddy up the integrity of every primary race from here on out — even though the Democratic presidential primary is effectively already over.

Polling places backing out

Here in Chicago, dozens of polling places traditionally are located in privately owned buildings, senior citizen residences and nursing homes. But now, as Crain’s Chicago Business reports, landlords and building managers are backing out, dreading the thought of crowds of voters coming through, worried about exposure to the virus. Older people are among the most at risk.

That same fear threatens to create a shortage of election judges and discourage voters from turning out. Some city election officials even raised the possibility of postponing Tuesday’s election, but were met with strong pushback from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration and others, according to a Sun-Times report. The election will take place, officials say, but at least 25 precinct polling locations will be moved.

However all this shakes out, we anticipate an outcry about primary elections in the near future being distorted and diminished by the coronavirus. Losers in close races, up and down the ballot, will cry foul.

Which is why Sanders should drop out now.

The gift of a clean victory

Sanders is not in a close race. He has all but lost, and not because of some conspiracy on the part of the Democratic Party establishment. Democratic voters, for a host of reasons, just prefer Biden. We’ve endorsed him, too.

If Sanders drops out now, he will be handing Biden the gift of a clean victory. He will be stamping his seal of approval — of integrity and validity — on what has in fact been a fair and honest race so far. And it will be a whole lot easier to convince all Democrats, even the most passionate Bernie supporters, to fall in behind Biden for the real job ahead — defeating Trump.

But if Sanders fights on, forcing Biden to engage him in 31 more primaries and caucuses tarnished by the coronavirus, there could be a shadow — a question mark — over Biden’s victory, inevitable as that victory will be. A half dozen “what if” scenarios, dreamed up by Sanders’ supporters, Trump and others, will call into question the legitimacy of Biden’s nomination.

Going out in style

Bernie Sanders knows he has lost. That was clear on Wednesday when, during a brief update to the media, he talked less about winning than about making sure his idealistic young followers are not left behind.

“Today, I say to the Democratic establishment,” Sanders said, “in order to win in the future, you need to win the voters that represent the future of country.” 

Sanders has said repeatedly that, if it comes to it, he will support Biden. As he said earlier this month in Phoenix: “I will certainly do everything I can if he is the nominee.”

If Sanders means that — if he is not just giving lip service to this commitment, as he did four years ago when he endorsed Hillary Clinton in the most grudging way possible — he should bow to the inevitable and quit the race now.

Sanders can give Biden a clean win. Or he can shove Joe into the mud.

Either way, he loses. The only question is whether he wants to go out in style.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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