People have been predicting Sanders’s last stand for a while a while now—it started before people even began voting.
It’s true that Sanders does not have a likely path to the nomination. But it’s also true that he has both a movement behind him and a sizable campaign chest. He can and should keep fighting until June, as Hillary Clinton did in 2008, because his goal, the remaking of the Democratic Party, is not one that’s limited to this election cycle.
That said, this may very well be his last chance to hit Hillary Clinton hard about her ties to Wall Street and the political establishment. There are reasons to expect this debate to be significantly more contentious than the ones that proceeded it, but nothing to suggest that it will be as contentious as any of the boxing matches in 2008. For better and for worse, as my colleague Ryu Spaeth pointed out this morning, the differences between Sanders and Clinton are real and pronounced. These are two very distinct candidates with two very different wells of support. They have plenty of differences, but one reason the Democratic debates this cycle have generally been so dull is that they have rarely been competing for the same swath of the electorate.
Tonight may be the last time that Sanders has an opportunity to make an argument that he’s a better general election candidate than Clinton, but for him the election has been about much more than that. Tonight may be a testier debate for that reason, but the stakes of the Democratic primary extend beyond who becomes the eventual nominee. Clinton will almost certainly win that battle, but Sanders is fighting to win the war of the future of the Democratic Party.