Can Bernie Sanders Still Win The Nomination? Well, It Depends On What You Mean By “Win”

Yesterday’s primary in New York was characterized as a “must win” for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, so now that Clinton has been declared triumphant in her adopted home state (Donald Trump walloped the competition with Republican voters), does Sanders have a chance at winning the nomination? If you ask his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, the candidate plans to take his fight all the way to the Democratic Convention on July 25 — even if Clinton has maintained her lead in the popular vote and delegate count by the time the primaries are finished on June 7.

“It is extremely unlikely either candidate will have the requisite number of pledged delegates to get [the nomination],” Weaver told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki last night. “So it’s going to be an election determined by the superdelegates.” When asked if Sanders would spend the next few months trying to flip Clinton’s pledged superdelegates, Weaver responded affirmatively, “at this point, yes.”

Either candidate needs 2,383 delegates to secure the nomination; regular delegates are distributed between the candidates based on the primary results, while superdelegates (mostly party leaders and can vote for whomever they want. Clinton’s official pledged delegate count stands at 1,428 to Sanders’ 1,151. She’s also got 502 superdelegates to his 38, but as Weaver indicated, those numbers could change. With 1,646 delegates still up for grabs, it’s unclear if either candidate, if both stay in the race until the primary ends, will seize the delegate count needed to lock down the nomination, in which case Sanders’ ability to woo Clinton’s pledged superdelegates could make all the difference. So how might they do that? By arguing that Sanders is in a better position to WIN.

Sanders’ supporters have rightly pointed out that polls show that the Senator from Vermont does better than Clinton in head-to-head match-ups with the three potential GOP nominees. But without a lead in either the popular vote or delegates amongst registered Democrats, Sanders is not exactly in a great position to argue he deserves the nomination. But Weaver argued that Sanders’ appeal to independents, undecided voters, and even moderate conservatives who can’t picture themselves voting for Trump (or Cruz or Kasich) should be taken into consideration if the end goal is to win in November.

KORNACKI: So the question is, if you guys can’t come to them and say, we won the pledged delegate count, you have to honor the will of the people, if you can’t come to them and say, we won the popular vote, you have to honor the will of the people, if these superdelegates already want to be with Hillary Clinton, and they can say, hey, she won the popular vote, hey, she won the pledged delegate vote, how can you flip them after the primaries?

WEAVER: Well, because they are going to want to win in November. And if the polling continues to show that Bernie Sanders is a much stronger candidate in the general election, and that’s for a few reasons, right?

He brings out a lot of young people into the process who might otherwise participate. He’s extremely popular with independent voters. If you look at when you have open caucuses and open primaries, he wins independents 65/35, 70/30.

And in November, you know, only about a quarter of the population is Democrats. If you can’t create a coalition with independent voters, you can’t win the White House. You can’t win the Senate. You can’t bring additional people into the House.

So this is what has to be built in November. It has to be Democrats along with independents to defeat the Republicans. And Bernie Sanders is the candidate who can do that.

Now, it’s worth noting that Weaver may not be speaking for all of Team Sanders, or even Sanders himself. Tad Devine, Sanders’ senior adviser, told reporters that the campaign will “assess where we are” following next week’s primaries in Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Pennsylvania. To my ears, that sounds like the campaign is up in the air about whether they’ll continue if Sanders isn’t able to secure a few more significant wins.

So to answer the question, can Bernie Sanders still get the Democratic nomination for President? Sure, anything is possible. But Sanders himself has been clear that the will of the people must be honored — if he’s not able to dig into Clinton’s lead amongst Dems next week, while showing significant and meaningful support amongst independents, my hunch is that Sanders will stay true to his word. But that doesn’t make his campaign any less significant and important to our country and to the future of the Democratic Party.