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Bernie Sanders and COVID-19

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Obviously the only significant question remaining about Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign is when it’s going to formally end. It’s also obvious that all Democrats, and most Sanders supporters, agree it needs to end in whatever way maximizes Joe Biden’s chances of defeating Donald Trump. To meet that goal, it needs to end soon, and gracefully.

Sanders is scheduled to debate Biden on Sunday, before a series of primaries on Tuesday that are certain to increase Biden’s already-large delegate lead massively. There’s no reason this debate should take place, as it’s far more likely to harm Biden’s chances in the general than help them. Biden’s debate performance at this point in his career is spotty. But beyond that, in such a debate Sanders would be, whether he is willing to admit it to himself yet or not (I’ll go with not), for all practical purposes a Trump surrogate, since his attacks on Biden will be attacks on the Democratic nominee.

And there’s another significant factor in play as well: COVID-19. The number of identified cases in the USA is going to explode over the next couple of weeks, because people are now beginning to get tested. Social anxiety trending toward panic over the epidemic is building — for example I fully expect most universities won’t be holding in-person classes within another week or two — and large public gatherings of all kinds are going to be curtailed, as civic leaders attempt to step in to play the national leadership role that ought to be but will not be played by the utterly incompetent and corrupt Trump administration.

In this context, holding competitive primaries in several large states, including a couple with particularly large elderly populations, is something that would be worth doing only if there was still a real race going on. There isn’t, and Sanders needs to recognize how important it is, from a public health perspective, for him to drop out before then.

Bernie Sanders has played a very important and on balance positive role in pushing the Democratic party left over the past five years. He has a chance to end his campaign in a way that will emphasize that he puts both defeating Donald Trump and protecting public health above considerations of ego. But that chance will slip away rapidly if he doesn’t do the right thing now.

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