Bernie Sanders is staying in the race until the last primary and the nation will be better off for it, he told NPR's Steve Inskeep in an interview that will air Thursday on Morning Edition.
Inskeep, passing on questions he had invited on Twitter, asked Sanders if he is "threatening [his] revolution" by continuing to run, potentially scaring some voters away from supporting Hillary Clinton — the likely Democratic nominee — in November.
"I think we are perpetuating the political revolution by significantly increasing the level of political activity that we're seeing in this country," Sanders responded. He added later, "I think it is good for the United States of America, good for the Democratic Party, to have a vigorous debate, to engage people in the political process."
Sanders elaborated, noting that by staying in the race, he is energizing voters and, therefore, in fact boosting the Democratic Party to victory in November. He contended that Democrats do well when turnout is high and that Republicans do poorly when turnout is high.
"So I'm going to do everything I can to stimulate political discourse in this country and get young people, working people, involved in the political process," he said.
That means he will stay in the race "until the last vote is cast" after Washington, D.C.'s Democratic primary June 14.
But Can He Win?
The Vermont independent senator also stressed that he thinks he can still win, despite Clinton's massive delegate lead.
"We think we have a path toward victory — admittedly it is a narrow path," Sanders said.
A very narrow path: He would need 65 percent of all remaining pledged delegates for a pledged majority and 82 percent of all delegates — including remaining superdelegates — to pull past Clinton overall, according to NPR's Domenico Montanaro.
But Sanders said he believes if he is able to win by large margins in upcoming states like Oregon and California, as he has in Washington (with nearly 73 percent of the vote) and Utah (79 percent), he can pull ahead.
Sanders could win in West Virginia, where he leads in recent polls. But in some later states, it gets tougher. On June 7, Sanders would have to get those margins in California, New Jersey and elsewhere. And in delegate-heavy California, for example, Clinton leads in recent polls, as well as New Jersey.
And, remember, he needs two-thirds of all pledged delegates just for a pledged majority. That's very difficult to do because Democrats allocate their delegates proportionally. For example, out of Sanders' win in Indiana on Tuesday night, he finds himself needing a higher percentage of the vote than going into Tuesday because he got only 53 percent of the vote.
"The path to victory is to do extremely well in the remaining states," he said.
In addition, he acknowledged, superdelegates would have to change their minds. However, in states in which he has won (or may yet win) by wide margins, he said, those delegates should simply reflect the will of the voters, not to mention general election prospects.
"I think we have got to make the case that the superdelegates, who in many cases were on board [with] Hillary Clinton even before I got in the race, that they should take a hard look at which candidate is stronger against Donald Trump," he said. "And I think we can make that case."
Sanders pointed to polls in which he performs better than Clinton against Trump in hypothetical general-election matchups.
Sanders, however, declined to answer whether he believes Clinton would be qualified to be president. Rather, he said that he wants to prevent Trump from winning in November.
"Right now as I've said many times, Steve, I think that a Donald presidency would be a disaster for this country," he said. "And I intend to do everything that I can to see that this does not happen."
The Path Ahead: West Virginia
Sanders' next stop in furthering his political revolution is West Virginia, where he is currently campaigning. Clinton angered voters there with a comment earlier this cycle that under her, the nation would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business" (though she had also said she wanted to invest more in those communities and help workers find new jobs). Clinton apologized for that remark this week.
Asked about this comment, Sanders was similar to Clinton's point of view. He said that while he is committed to helping American workers, the nation has to tackle the problem of man-made climate change by moving "away from fossil fuel."
He added that his climate change legislation includes $41 billion to help displaced workers get education, job training and unemployment benefits.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Two very different presidential candidates have made a cause out of appealing to blue-collar voters. One is Democrat Bernie Sanders.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The other, as Sanders knows all too well, is Republican Donald Trump.
(SOUNDBITE of archived recording)
BERNIE SANDERS: Does Donald Trump have support in this country? Of course he has support. He has won the Republican nomination.
INSKEEP: Can he drag Democrats over to the Republican side?
SANDERS: Can he drag - well, the - I think that's the wrong question, Steve.
INSKEEP: Sanders would rather ask how Democrats can offer a better alternative. We spoke with Senator Sanders just before he visited West Virginia. We have his thoughts elsewhere today on campaigning in that red state. We also asked about Sanders' battle to catch up with Hillary Clinton. Even after winning Indiana's primary this week, Sanders is far behind. He trails in the convention delegates that decide the Democratic nomination. He needs to win two-thirds of all pledged delegates who remain. Yet as we're going to hear, Sanders contends it will be good for Democrats if he simply fights on.
Senator, I put a call out on Twitter. I said, I'm talking to Bernie Sanders, you got anything you want to know? And the most consistent theme in the many responses we got had to do with how long you're going to stay in this race. Even though you just won Indiana, people are looking at the delegate counts, recognizing that you've got long odds and wondering if you're going to stay in too long.
SANDERS: (Laughter) Well, we're going to stay in until the last vote is counted. And that will be in the primary in Washington, D.C.
INSKEEP: June, 14.
SANDERS: That's right. We think that, you know, I don't know. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I think that the people of every state in this country, including the largest state in America, California, should have a right to cast their votes as to who they want to see as president of the United States and what kind of agenda they want the Democratic Party to have.
INSKEEP: Let me ask a couple of specific questions. These are just people on Twitter. Here's one. Are you threatening your revolution by continuing and alienating some Democrats from voting for Hillary Clinton eventually?
SANDERS: Well, I think we are perpetuating the political revolution by significantly increasing the level of political activity that we're seeing in this country. Millions of people are now coming into the political process as a result of what our campaign is about. I think it is good for the United States of America, good for the Democratic Party to have a vigorous debate, to engage people in the political process.
You know, two years ago, 2014, 63 percent of the American people didn't even bother to vote. And 80 percent of young people and 80 percent of low-income people did not bother to vote in the midterm election. I think that that's pretty pathetic. And I think that Democrats do well when the voter turnout is high. Republicans lose when the voter turnout is high. So I'm going to do everything I can to stimulate political discourse in this country, get young people and working people involved in the political process. We won in Indiana. I think we got some more good victories coming. So we are in this race until the very last vote cast.
INSKEEP: Another variation on this question from Twitter, which is more important, a Sanders presidency or a Democratic presidency?
SANDERS: Well, that's - I think that if you look at the issues facing this country and the differences between Secretary Clinton and myself, I think A, my policies and my agenda will be better for the working families of this country. And second of all, if you look at virtually every poll that's out there, including one from CNN today, Bernie Sanders does better against Donald Trump than does Hillary Clinton. So if we want to make sure that we do not have a Donald Trump in the White House, I think at this point, Bernie Sanders is the strongest candidate.
INSKEEP: Do you mean to say Sanders presidency is more important than this person's suggestion that a Democratic presidency might be more important?
SANDERS: Well, what I'm just suggesting is if you look at every poll that's out there, Bernie Sanders does better against Donald Trump, more likely to defeat Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton.
INSKEEP: One more question along those lines. And this is my question now. You told Chuck Todd of NBC the other day that if Secretary Clinton does clinch the nomination, quote, "the responsibility will be on Secretary Clinton to convince all people," not just your supporters, "that she is the kind of president this country needs." Are you convinced, Senator?
SANDERS: Well, my point was - and it's true of Secretary Clinton. It's true of Bernie Sanders. It is true of Donald Trump. You want to go out and win elections; you got to convince the people of this country that you are the candidate that works best for their interests. And I think there's a lot of work that has to be done on the part of all of the candidates.
INSKEEP: The reason I ask is because you did say earlier in the campaign she was not qualified. Can you convince yourself, or have you convinced yourself that she is qualified?
SANDERS: Well, you know, right now, as I have said many times, Steve, I think that a Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for this country. And I intend to do everything that I can to see that that does not happen.
INSKEEP: Does that mean to say that you would be out this fall if you don't win the nomination campaigning?
SANDERS: You know, as I just said, Steve, I think that a Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for this country. I am the most progressive member of the United States Senate, I think. I have fought as hard as I can for working people. And
I'm not going to see a president come into office, like a Donald Trump, who is busy dividing us up in terms of picking on Mexicans and Latinos and Muslims and women and veterans and African-Americans. That is not the type of president that we need. And that is not the type of president that I - I will do everything in my power to make sure that he does not become president. So Steve, so thank you so much.
SANDERS: Oh, Senator?
INSKEEP: Do you mind if I ask one more question?
SANDERS: One last question, sure. We got time for one more.
INSKEEP: OK, sure. Yeah, just talk me through, because you said you have a tough path but one that you can walk.
INSKEEP: I'm just interested about, a little bit of the mechanics here. You'd have to win a lot of delegates, a great majority of delegates along the way, to get a majority of pledged delegates. There are some big states ahead. It's certainly true. But just the way delegates are awarded, even if you win California, even if you win West Virginia, you don't get all the delegates. They're not winner-take-all. Doesn't that make this extraordinarily difficult for you?
SANDERS: Yes, it's an uphill battle. But you know what, Steve? When I started this campaign, it was an extraordinarily uphill battle. We were 60 points behind Secretary Clinton. Polls out there now, the last few weeks, a few had us actually ahead in national polls or a few points behind. The path to victory is to do extremely well in the remaining states. And as you indicate, California, of course, is the largest state. And we hope to do very well there and win that state.
INSKEEP: Senator Sanders, thanks very much.
SANDERS: Thank you very much, Steve. Take care.
INSKEEP: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke yesterday in southern Indiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.