On Wednesday, the Sanders camp bowed to the inevitable and suspended its campaign for President. Despite insisting they had a path to the White House, COVID -19 and numerous polls made it clear the path was steep. But, even though Bernie, in speech after speech, and even in his announcement, said defeating Trump was paramount, the damage he has done to the Biden campaign is likely insurmountable.
Now, first-off, this does not mean Biden cannot and will not win in November. Rather, Sanders likely has shaved off vote-share from Biden by focusing on the core economic issues Biden has only reluctantly taken on. This does illustrate a key point. Bernie wasn’t able to corral self-identified Democrats but he did manage to win over progressive Independents and new voters. The same voters Biden needs in November who don’t see him as their champion.
By nature, Biden is a cautious centrist. That is exactly his problem and it was made clearer by Sanders. On progressive issue after issue (minus guns), Biden has only hesitantly embraced the progressive viewpoint. It has not gone unnoticed. Vox, Slate, The Jacobin and a host of other left-wing sites have taken notice.
So did Sanders and he has slammed Biden on it again and again. From college debt reduction, taxes, and healthcare, Sanders has laid waste to the Biden claim he is a progressive. So why is this not very prominent in polling or the larger media institutions like the Washington Post, New York Times, etc?
Well, if you guess because they are the elitists who like Biden centrism, you’d be right. These are the people who, yes, embrace gay marriage and abortion on demand, precisely because it does not impact their lives. They don’t embrace taxing the wealthy be causer they are the wealthy. They dislike universal healthcare because they like their private employer provided care.
But this is precisely the issue Democrats have with their upstarts-downstairs coalition. The wealthy suburbanites and urbanites who will vote for a traditional Democrat are not the same type of voter who is more economically progressive. It is the downscale, lower-income progressives Biden already would have had a tough time reaching. Bernie’s pitch made Biden’s appeal much, much tougher.
It should be noted most Bernie voters will back Biden and not back Trump. But every Sanders voter who stays home or votes third party still is a vote for Trump. Bernie has built his campaign on being a socialist and as far to the left as you can go while Biden always was the middle of the road guy. That middle of the road guy only excites a certain wing of the party.
Case in point: the growing enthusiasm gap between Trump supporters and Biden supporters. Gallup found over 50% of Trump supporters were very excited to back their candidate. Not even a third of Bidden supporters said this. The Biden campaign has telegraphed their weakness by openly admitting they need a female candidate to try to excite voters with.
Now, a vote is a vote, regardless of excitement. But it is telling when a major party nominee who leads in virtually every head to head against Trump nationally is recording drastically different levels of enthusiasm among his supporters. That is bad!
Bernie dug the knife deep. By attacking Biden on the traditional economic issues he likely weakened Biden’s grip on the Midwest while perhaps helping him in the Sunbelt and Southwest. Sure, it is true a Biden candidacy will help more than hurt in an Arizona or Georgia, but in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, the party needs every vote it can get.
In the recent past, Obama, despite being a traditional liberal, won over voters of all stripes by striking a populist tone on issues, if not actually governing that way. So did/has Trump. Shocker, so has Bernie. Biden seems allergic to this thought process.
Rather, it seems Biden thinks if he just takes the referendum on Trump route and see he is a steady hand he wins the election by default. That is a faulty strategy. Much as Clinton thought all left wing voters would follow her and she was free to be a hawk on foreign policy and promote tax cuts, Biden is assuming progressives will show up and support him, because, Trump.
But, if you are struggling, and see little will change, regardless of who wins, what incentive do you have to vote? Sanders has exposed Biden’s greatest weakness and in his stubbornness Biden has yet to address it. Combined with a Biden campaign which has shown little ability to adapt to an electoral environment with COVID -19 and public health concerns the damage Bernie has done looks irreparable.