Bernie Sanders’ supporters are experiencing the five stages of grief after a devastating 16-point loss in New York Tuesday night, a drubbing that greatly narrowed the Vermont senator’s path moving forward. After holding out hope, some are beginning to accept the disheartening notion that the Vermont senator is now unlikely to win the party’s nomination.
“It is over,” Lee Stonum, an avid Sanders supporter and public defender in Orange County, California, wrote on his Facebook page after the New York results were tallied. “I’m a little annoyed by the tone of the emails I’m not getting from the campaign that refuse to acknowledge this and claim there is still a path to the nomination. There is not.”
Stonum, who was disappointed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren did not run, said he originally looked to Sanders because he was searching for an alternative to Hillary Clinton — someone he still says he will have a difficult time supporting. But he quickly became inspired by Sanders, donated to the campaign, and was hoping to cast his vote in a competitive race in California on June 7.
For some backers, anger and denial replaced “the Bern” they were feeling, leading them to question the result by pointing to the purging of thousands of New Yorkers from the voter rolls in Brooklyn.
Others had already graduated to the next phase – bargaining. Instead of arguing that they will win in the pledged delegate count, they are embracing a new longshot strategy outlined by Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver: fighting to a contested convention by flipping superdelegates to Sanders’ column come summer.
But by late in the week, even some of the most ardent Bernie backers had moved to the final stage of processing an emotional loss: depression and acceptance, coupled with a newfound frustration over a beloved campaign they now consider to be in denial of reality.
“Bernie needed NY and he didn’t even come close,” Stonum wrote. “He would need PA too and he’s not going to come close there either. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.”
Just as in New York, Sanders faces another closed primary in on April 26 Pennsylvania, where he currently trails by double digits in the polls. He also faces tough battles that day in Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island.
As Sanders supporters processed the New York loss and the upcoming map, Stonum wasn’t alone in his resignation.
On pro-Sanders message boards on Reddit — an online community where impassioned discussions of Sanders’ campaign vastly outweigh any talk about Clinton — expressions of surrender began bubbling up after the New York loss.
“It’s the reality of the situation, the chance to win the nomination has passed,” wrote one user, who posts under the username “Sieziggy” in a pro-Sanders forum. “It’s time to shift the energy of his campaign and groups like this subreddit to local and state government which will have a lasting, meaningful impact.”
Another glum Sanders supporter weighed in: “Sorry to be a bummer, but no matter how I [s]quint my eyes and look the numbers, I’m not seeing a viable campaign, and will be applying my efforts elsewhere,” the Reddit user wrote, under the username “AvatusKingsman.”
“ColtonCM,” another Sanders supporter, wrote that New York was a reality check. “Man,” the user wrote, “it really isn’t looking good for us.”
The New York primary was a high-stakes proposition for both candidates. Sanders’ campaign had called it a “must-win” state and Clinton operatives fretted that a poor showing in the former senator’s adopted home state would be perceived as a sign of weakness. But the bigger-than-expected win did away “with the perception that the people want Sanders but the party wants Clinton,” said David Birdsell, dean of public affairs at Baruch College in New York. “It allows her to go into subsequent states projecting beyond the convention in a way that doesn’t seem merely dismissive of Sanders’ candidacy.”
In fact, some of Sanders’ own supporters are now dismissive of his chances of claiming the nomination moving forward. Clinton now leads by more than 250 pledged delegates and by 465 superdelegates, according to the AP’s delegate tracker. Sanders operatives counter that he still leads in head-to-head match-ups in national polls, and currently polls better than Clinton against Donald Trump.
Campaign officials for the Vermont senator said supporters processing the New York loss with resignation are part of a disillusioned minority.
“Tell that to the thousands of people coming to rallies who want to be part of this grassroots movement,” spokesman Michael Briggs said of the supporters who feel like the primary battle is over. “We can count, but there still is a path to victory. He’s ahead in national polls.”
Briggs noted that Sanders still “fares far better than Secretary Clinton against Republicans and Democrats, even establishment types who want to keep the White House and take back the Senate are turning to him.”
Sanders’ senior strategist Tad Devine predicted the campaign would regain its momentum in the coming weeks when states like Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia head to the polls.
The Sanders brain trust didn’t help its case by appearing to put out mixed messages about the path ahead in the hours following the New York defeat. Devine said that after the five states that vote on April 26, the campaign would reassess its posture. Weaver, meanwhile, pledged to take the fight to the convention floor no matter what results come in next week.
Devine insisted there was no split in the campaign’s thinking. “He and I express ourselves differently, I’m not nearly as colorful,” he said of Weaver. “We’re very much on the same page. Neither candidate will have enough pledged delegates to claim a majority of delegates with pledged delegates.”
In the bleak online world of disappointed Sanders supporters, some vowed to keep on fighting as long as Sanders did, even if they concluded it was likely over.
“It’s not very likely that Sanders will win the nomination,” wrote a Reddit user named “DoesMyUserNameSuck.” “I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, and I’m not gonna blow smoke up your butt.”
But, the user said, a loss doesn’t mean it’s time to give up the fight: “Don’t give up voting! I hope Bernie has instilled into you guys that your vote DOES matter.”
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