Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (left), and former Vice President Joe Biden, talk before a Democratic presidential primary debate on Feb. 25 in Charleston, S.C.

We have reached the point of the Democratic presidential nomination process where the last two candidates are left standing. Well, actually former Vice President Joe Biden seems to be only one truly standing. Biden’s rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is teetering on the brink of irrelevance.

Because Sanders is standing where Biden stood just three weeks ago, it might be premature to predict his demise.

The Sanders campaign has no reason to be ashamed; he has run a spirited campaign that has put a number of issues on the table. But many of Sanders’ supporters undercut one of his primary reasons for viability.

Sanders based his candidacy, in part, on the contention that he could bring young people (17-30) out to the polls in record numbers. But when it came time to vote, the vaunted young people were missing in action. This demographic on which Sanders pinned his hopes has underperformed thus far, based on their 2016 numbers. It remains fool’s gold to place one’s political hopes on a voter-turnout tsunami led by those 17-30.

The impressive series of Biden primary victories included Michigan, where Biden won every county in a state that four years earlier went to Sanders. This victory, in particular, weakened another of Sanders’ claim that he could put the rust belt states that President Trump won in 2016 back in the Democrats’ column.

Since the 2016 election, armchair Sanders supporters offered that those states — namely, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — would have gone to Sanders. Four years later, when the opportunity to put this revisionist theory to the test presented itself, it failed miserably.

Of the 1,736 delegates declared, Biden has garnered roughly half. He widened his lead over Sanders to roughly 150 delegates. Moreover, Sanders has all but ceded Florida to Biden, the third-largest delegate haul behind California and Texas, with his seemingly favorable comments about former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Sanders had vowed to continue in the Democratic presidential primary. The Vermont senator said he looked forward to discussing his policy difference with Joe Biden during today’s debate.

Whether Sanders should continue his campaign is a question that only he can answer. Anyone possessing the combination of courage, temerity and arrogance to place their name under serious consideration to be leader of the free world must alone stare into the abyss when engulfed by intractable defeat and decide went it is time to stop.

Because Sanders has created an impressive grassroots fundraising machine, and created genuine excitement among his legions of supporters, the decision to suspend his campaign can be more daunting. Judicious pragmatic thinking can be overruled by the emotion of second-guessing oneself. Every “what if” is accompanied by several reasons to remain in the race.

Ironically, Sanders finds himself asking many of the questions that Hillary Clinton and her supporters posed in the aftermath of the 2016 election defeat to Donald Trump. Like Clinton, every metric used to mount a successful campaign has been used with Sanders. Yet, he lost primaries to Biden, where the former vice president didn’t possess field staff or phone banks or run commercials.

Sanders asserted that his campaign was not just an ideological debate, but a progressive movement — a progressive movement that Sanders offers is winning with younger voters.

Rarely do political campaigns and movements run on the same track. Movements can afford to themselves the luxury of being certain about their cause in ways not available to successful political campaigns. Political campaigns masquerading as movements can don the caps of certainty, where ideologues are the leaders and purity is the coin of the realm.

Though Sanders’ path to victory has narrowed significantly, calls for him to drop out are premature. Sanders and his supporters should be respected for the campaign they mounted.

But Sanders and some of his followers have trafficked in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. The most prominent is the claim of interference by the “Democratic establishment.” Sanders is right, but not in the matter he suggests.

There is a Democratic establishment, but not some powerful and mysterious illuminati, terrified of losing its power stretching out its long shadowy arm to kibosh Sanders’ presidential hopes. The so-called “establishment” is, in fact, voters who for myriad reasons decided that Biden is the person they want to oppose President Trump in the General Election. It was black women in Orangeburg County, white women in Fairfax Country, white men in Washtenaw County, liberals is Suffolk County and moderates in Ramsey County.

In short, for all of the reasons Sanders and his supporters put forth for Biden’s lead in the delegate count, they omit that Biden has received more votes from a diverse coalition.

The Rev. Byron Williams (byron@public, a writer and the host of “The Public Morality” on WSNC 90.5, lives in Winston-Salem.

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