By Larry Levine –
Sen. Bernie Sanders had hardly left the Democratic Primary race when self-proclaimed leaders of the so-called progressive fringe of the party started to issue demands as the price of their support of former Vice President Joe Biden in the General Election.
The surest, and maybe the only way for Biden to blow the chance to defeat Donald Trump in November would be to yield to those demands. It’s an agenda that was roundly rejected by Democrats and Independents in Primary after Primary this year as Biden ran up so big a lead that Sanders saw no path forward and withdrew.
Through six years of campaigning for the Presidency, Sanders became indelibly identified with certain issues. In voting for Biden and other candidates in the Primaries, despite Sanders’ huge financial advantage, voters said by overwhelming majorities they do not want the Sanders policy package.
Atop the list of demands of the Sanders backers is that Biden embrace their vision of healthcare-for-all. They cite the covid-19 pandemic as cover for the Biden switch despite the fact that countries around the world with universal health care have not been immune to the virus and it’s devastating effects.
In short, they are demanding that Biden trade in a winning issue for a losing one. Democrats swept the nation in the 2018 election not by proposing some dramatic changes to the health care system but by defending the Affordable Care Act and pointing out all the ways in which Republicans are trying to undercut and repeal it. That’s a winning position, as Biden has demonstrated so far this year – protect the ACA and build on it, not toss it out and substitute a high-priced, ill-defined, and little-understood alternative. If the U.S. is ever to get to universal single-payer health care it’s going to happen by increments not by a revolution.
So, Biden needs to hold to his position and keep Donald Trump and the Republican Party and all its candidates for Congress on the defensive over their efforts to get rid of the ACA.
A collective of eight organizations purporting to speak for the youth vote sent a letter to Biden within hours of Sanders’ withdrawal. They list 18 demands on issues including The Green New Deal, elimination of ICE, legalization of marijuana, federal gun licensing, and commitments to appoint certain named individuals to cabinet and other positions. Each of these would represent a big fat target for Trump to attack Biden and put him on the defensive. Biden’s positions on these issues is far closer to what the “progressives” would want than are Trump’s positions, yet they are attempting to force Biden to a place where mainstream voters will not follow.
The issue in November needs to be Donald Trump, not a series of “progressive” dreams, no matter how worthy they might be.
The people who are making these demands are acting like their candidate and his positions were not rejected by some two-thirds of the people who voted in Primaries in every part of the country. Their audacity is fueled in great part by two false narratives: 1) that Trump won in 2016 because Sanders supporters refused to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and 2) that they can generate a massive “youth vote” turnout without which Biden cannot win.
First, there is no data or evidence from the 2016 campaign to support the first narrative. Trump won because the Clinton campaign made strategic mistakes based on a misreading of the data and because, in retrospect, it appears Clinton was far more unacceptable to far more people than it was apparent at the time. This is borne out by comparing the results of this year’s Michigan Primary with the results of the Primary and General Elections in that state four years ago.
As for threats that young people won’t come out for Biden because they aren’t enthusiastic about him and promises that these “progressives” can achieve a massive youth vote turnout, consider, first, that the surge of young people that was supposed to carry Sanders to victories in the Primaries never materialized. In many places the turnout among younger voters this year was lower than it was four years ago. As for Biden needing an inflated youth vote turnout to win, as romantic a notion as this might be, it isn’t true.
If the only people who vote in November 2020 are the same people who voted in November 2016 Biden will win without capitulating on dozens of issues. The 2016 vote for Trump was his ceiling. He was new and the American public was not yet aware of the true character of the man. It’s hard to imagine any person who did not vote for Trump in 2016 thinking now that he is such an upstanding, outstanding, moral and effective leader that they should switch and vote for him now.
On the other hand, it isn’t difficult to imagine people who voted for Trump because they just didn’t like Hillary Clinton now deciding they’ve had enough of the lies and chaos and abandoning Trump this time.
It all comes down to three states – Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – that Barack Obama won twice and Trump carried against Clinton. If Biden can flip those three states and hold all the Clinton states, he will win. And he won’t do that by threatening to take away people’s health insurance; or advocating for a Green New Deal they believe, rightly or wrongly, would cost them their jobs; or being perceived as advocating revolutionary change in program after program.
As he has said he would do, Biden must pay attention to the voices from the far left, but he shouldn’t capitulate. If they want to defeat Trump and not allow him to appoint the successor to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Biden is the only game in town.