In early June, voters in the U.S. territory of the Virgin Islands will go to the polls to choose their delegates for the Democratic National Convention. When that happens, the primary season will be officially over, though it is likely to end well before that.
If polls today are accurate and nothing much changes in the next few months (rather large assumptions, obviously), according to The New York Times and the respected FiveThirtyEight website, Bernie Sanders is likely to be the nominee of the Democratic Party.
He is already generally acknowledged to be the front-runner due to the implosion of the Joe Biden campaign following his disastrous results in Iowa.
No one knows how the next few months will pan out, though it does seem increasingly likely that the field will narrow to Sanders and one other Democrat, representing what journalists like to call the “moderate wing” of the party.
That could be Pete Buttigieg, who did exceptionally well in Iowa, but is not expected to do well in upcoming states with more diverse populations. It could be Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire candidate, who has bought his way into the next round of candidate debates. Whoever it is, the contrast with Sanders will be sharp.
We will know much more after “Super Tuesday” on 3 March when many key states – including the biggest of them all, California – vote. It may even turn out that on the morning after, we will pretty much know who’s going to be the Democratic candidate to take on Trump.
Which means that the Sanders campaign, assuming that it continues to do very well, will need to be thinking even now about pivoting to the campaign against Trump having defeated all the other Democratic candidates.
Sanders has already done a very smart thing in insisting that he and all the other candidates commit themselves to rallying around whoever Democratic voters choose to be the party’s choice this year. In 2016, Sanders took a lot of flak from the left for endorsing Clinton in the end. This year, raising the demand for party unity even if the party chooses a self-styled “democratic socialist” seems like a very smart move by the Vermont senator.
In addition to rallying the whole party around a Sanders candidacy, and ensuring that defeated candidates like Bloomberg don’t launch third party efforts, Sanders has to become laser-focussed on defeating not just Donald Trump but Trumpism. And that means trying to figure out how Trump won in 2016.
It means first of all rejecting that idea that all Trump voters are idiots and racists. Obviously, stupid and bigoted people supported Trump. But many of those same people voted – twice – for Obama.
The reality is that for many working-class Americans, Trump spoke for their concerns about liberal elites and a process of globalisation that seemed to be destroying jobs. In 2016, Trump and Sanders had similar positions on some of the trade deals that the Obama administration had negotiated – deals which Clinton defended.
Even union members turned out in large numbers to vote for Trump, not believing that Clinton cared about them.
Trump promised things he could not deliver, and had no intention of delivering. As a result, he faces the real possibility of suffering electoral defeat in November. Knowing this, he has decided to weaponise racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. These are the traditional tools of the American right, and they have worked well in the past.
This is why Sanders’ unifying, class-wide message of solidarity is so powerful. Alone among the Democratic candidates, he offers real answers to those working class voters who abandoned Obama for Trump four years ago.
If, as predicted, he wins the Democratic nomination, he will need to sharpen that message and push back against the racism and sexism that have become the signatures of the Trump presidency.
That is the only way he can win.
• Eric Lee is the organiser of “London for Bernie”, writing here in a personal capacity