SOUTH BEND  — Bernie Sanders still could win the presidential election. For Donald Trump. He did it before. He could do it again.

Perhaps by the time you read this, Sanders will have suspended his campaign and endorsed Joe Biden. He should have if he is concerned about Democratic unity to defeat President Trump. Or is it all about Bernie?

With the pandemic, it’s also an ethical imperative for Sanders to put ego aside and admit his race for the Democratic nomination has failed, thus allowing more people to stay away from the polls in remaining presidential primaries and reduce risk of coronavirus spread.

In the primary voting, Sanders lost every county in Florida as Biden won by 40 percentage points, lost every county but one in Illinois as Biden won by over 20 points, and lost by double digits in Arizona, the one state where Sanders held out hope for doing well. Sanders was saved by the coronavirus from suffering another humiliating defeat in Ohio. The governor there called off the election.

In the delegate count, Sanders would have to start winning by landslides rather than losing all the counties in state after state. He can’t. His base, though still solid, is too small and not expanding. He failed to make inroads with African-American voters who now solidly back Biden.

Again, I cite advice in the Kenny Rogers song about card playing. It’s applicable in politics: “You got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”

Pete Buttigieg knew when to fold ’em and walk away, not continuing to run after South Carolina showed he also couldn’t capture much of the African-American vote and had no realistic path to the nomination. He endorsed Biden as the candidate with the best chance to defeat Trump.

Amy Klobuchar did the same. Both left with heads high and prestige enhanced for impressive efforts and dedication to a central task of defeating President Trump.

Remember 2016? Hillary Clinton had the Democratic nomination wrapped up early in June. Really, even before. But Sanders didn’t endorse her until July 12. He insisted on continuing his campaign through additional primaries to the bitter end. And it was bitter. He continued to raise questions about her character and to anger his base with claims that he was getting beat at the polls only because the Democratic “establishment” had rigged everything.

His support after the endorsement was lukewarm. He didn’t rally his base to get to the polls to defeat Trump. Some of his delegates at the Democratic National Convention even sought to disrupt Clinton’s acceptance speech. There was not unity. And there is the Trump presidency.

Many factors doomed Clinton, some her fault, some beyond her control. As close as the vote was in the key states that Trump won, failure of so many Sanders supporters to vote for her in the fall was one of the decisive factors in election of Trump. Many stayed home or voted for third-party candidates who had no chance. A lot even voted for Trump.

NBC News White House Correspondent Shannon Pettypiece recently cited an analysis of 2016 exit polling in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that showed 216,000 voters for Sanders in the spring switched to Trump in the fall. That was well over twice the president’s winning margin in those decisive states. If Sanders had stopped before the bitter end and given spirited rather than half-hearted support for Clinton, would Trump be president today?

This time, even if Sanders more quickly halts campaigning against Biden, will he go all out to prevent reelection of Trump or will he again be grumbling Bernie, sowing unhappiness because he didn’t prevail? He could be a key factor in deciding the election. Either way. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.