Joe Biden seems to have what once seemed an improbable lock on the Democratic presidential nomination, with victories in four of the six states contested yesterday and two still being counted.
An apparent smashing victory in Michigan, where Bernie Sanders surprised Hillary Clinton in 2016, looks like a death knell for the Sanders campaign.
Who knows why this happened — a victory for a candidate without a campaign and a record in the Senate short of illustrious, not to mention a propensity for verbal gaffes. A return to normalcy through defeat of Donald Trump and Biden’s friendly demeanor seem as good for answers as anything.
He was not my candidate.
Sanders wasn’t either.
My lack of enthusiasm for Sanders earned me ire from friends and fellow liberals on Twitter last night. Enough with the gloating, they said. It’s no way to bring Bernie Bros. into the Democratic Party camp.
Perhaps so. But what will? The promised youth surge for Sanders hasn’t emerged in the primary campaign. Is there hope it will somehow materialize in November? A vote for a third party or a non-vote in November is a vote for Donald Trump. No matter how bad Biden might appear to the young revolutionaries, four more years of Trump would be worse.
Eric Levitz writes in New York magazine that young people are critical to the Democratic Party’s future in the long-run and accommodations must be made by Biden to attract them. Even if they were a narrow slice of the voters yesterday, they went overwhelmingly for Sanders.
Some in Biden’s camp may see little need to make accommodations to the Bernard brethren. After all, the former vice-president is already running well to the left of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. His campaign platform features a $1.7 trillion climate plan, $15 minimum wage, deportation moratorium, strong public option for health insurance, and a robust package of pro-worker labor-law reforms. To the extent that Sanders supporters are reachable, shouldn’t this historically progressive agenda — combined with the specter of a second Trump term — be sufficient to keep them beneath blue America’s big tent? Why cater to the left when you can pivot to the center? The former has fewer votes to give and no real place to go, anyway.
But such reasoning is misguided in multiple respects. First, Sanders’s faction is not the same old minority of staunch progressives that have been with the Democrats since time immemorial. It is a coalition of the ascendant. Throughout the 2020 campaign, Sanders has boasted the lion’s share of the millennial and zoomer generations’ support, while Biden got by with a minuscule fraction: As of late January, national polls were putting Biden’s support among voters under 35 within their margin of error. And although the Democratic front-runner has gained some of the younger vote as the field has narrowed, exit polls from Tuesday night’s races once again confirmed that Biden’s crusade against “malarkey” (and/or single-payer health care) does not resonate with the young folk
Levitz goes on to mention some ideas for outreach, beginning with marijuana legalization, which is widely popular and which Biden has opposed. Also:
Other overwhelmingly popular items on Sanders’s agenda include requiring large corporations to put workers on their corporate boards, capping credit-card interest rates at 15 percent, imposing a wealth tax on the fortunes of billionaires, and making public colleges and universities tuition free. (Polling support for the last proposal is not quite as consistently high as it is for the preceding ones, but free college is also uniquely salient to the younger Bernie supporters whom Biden needs to reach).
All this said, campaign website promises are easy to write off. Highly engaged voters know that Biden will need improbable levels of Senate support to make good on his policy promises, while mere experience has taught low-engagement voters to discount the pledges of politicians. To give these concessions some heft, Biden will need to put personnel where his policy is. He should aim to bring as many of Sanders staffers onboard his campaign as possible, including the most sharp-elbowed among them. More importantly, he must pick a running mate who is better aligned with the future of his party than himself.
Let us hope.