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Bernie, Leverage, and the Ides of March

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 2/03/2016 Eric Schmeltzer

If the primaries keep going the way they've been going, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, in 2016. But, is it time for Bernie Sanders to start to think about dropping out? The answer is yes and no.
Looking ahead the next couple of weeks, there are a few states that Bernie Sanders cannot afford to lose completely, if he's ever to get his campaign in a position to impact the party by going all the way to the convention - Michigan, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Illinois. Combined, those states have 855 delegates.
With the money that the Sanders campaign has, there's every reason to try to keep all of those states close, while making an effort to grab one of them from the jaws of defeat. Given that the only state with him polling within single digits is Ohio, that's where he needs to make his move. A win there, combined with keeping other states within 10-15 points at least gives him a bit of breathing room, as far as momentum goes. It provides him a public rationale to continue his quest to build a cache of delegates, and a show of strength for the movement he's leading. And, heck, if he can win a bunch of them, then keep on keeping on, Bernie, all the way to the Philly convention!
But what if he can't pull out a win in any of the states above, by March 15, and actually loses a bunch by big margins?
Sure, primaries will still award delegates proportionally. Bernie may even still win big in delegate-light states like Nebraska, Kansas. But, the momentum will get stronger for Hillary. She will start pulling away in future contests. She will walk into the convention with the pledged delegate lead, and likely a flat-out majority. Even Bernie Superdelegates start moving to her side, in the name of party unity.
Right now, Bernie's leverage is strong. He has vibrant support. He has gobs of money. He's relatively ok in the delegate count. If he does well through March 15, his leverage may still yet increase. But, if he doesn't, then his leverage begins to fall from its apex, every day. Under that scenario, he might be wise to use it, before it disappears.
He will still have money, after March 15. He can reasonably say to Democratic leaders that unless he is given a very good "exit package," even in the face of his losses, he will power on through the primaries, challenging Hillary, while Donald Trump attacks her from the other side. If he stays in, he'll force Clinton's campaign to fight a two-front war. There's a chance that she can get slightly embarrassed by underperforming in California or New York, where Bernie has a base of support.
That is a strong negotiating position, and doesn't conflict with his promise to ultimately support and work for Hillary, once she is the nominee.
Or, they can give him and his supporters something, in a negotiated exit from the race.
What can Bernie exact, in exchange for exiting? He, and the movement he's leading, can get a lot.
For starters, he can demand control of a few key forums at the convention, as well as major influence over the drafting committee that writes the party platform. All of the issues his campaign has raised will have a real chance to get inserted into the official positions of the party.
After the general election, if Hillary Clinton wins, she will have a major say in how the party runs itself. And, while she doesn't pick the chair, she can put her thumb on the scale in the party election for chair. Right now, Bernie has the leverage to demand a role in picking "her candidate" for chair. Bernie would have the power to help pick a chair that rethinks fundraising, who returns to the 50 state strategy, and more.
Moving to the Senate, there are two huge potential opportunities. The Finance and Banking Committees. With the leverage he has now, Bernie could secure the promise of the very unconventional move of making him the top Democrat on either. If Democrats win the Senate, he would be the Chair of one of those committees, and in control of all legislation that moves through either of them.
The Banking Committee Democrats are currently led by Sherrod Brown who, if he isn't Hillary's VP pick, almost certainly would be up for a cabinet post. Bernie could secure Brown's seat, by negotiating a campaign exit. If Democrats win the Senate, Bernie would be in control of any bill related to Wall Street, banks, and a slew of other economic bills. Or, he could seek the promise to take over the Democratic side of the Finance committee, currently held by Ron Wyden, which oversees all bills dealing with trade, health care, Social Security, and more.
These are just hypothetical examples of what he could negotiate. Combined, moves like these, or others like them, would represent a huge increase in power for Bernie Sanders and his supporters. They would no longer have to crash the gates, they could walk right through them. It could have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on the Democratic Party and the national agenda.
None of it would even stop him from turning his campaign organization into a strong and vibrant progressive advocacy group. He'd be working the inside and the outside, at the same time. That's a lot of influence.
But, the ability to secure it will start to fade, and fade fast, if he doesn't rack up a win in a major state, and keep the others close, by March 15. If he waits too long, all Bernie will get is a prime time speech at the convention, as a gesture of good will.
Bernie has said that he knows how to take his movement and leverage it to create change. In a couple of weeks, he just might have his opportunity to prove it.

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