One Thing Joe Biden Doesn’t Need Right Now: Advice From Bernie Sanders
The Vermont socialist wants Biden to campaign with AOC. Yeah, that’ll impress swing voters. Sanders seems to forget that he lost.
Bernie Sanders lost the presidential race, but he’s still trying to lead the Democrats—straight into a ditch. At least, that’s what it sounds like to me when it leaks out that Bernie has been criticizing Biden’s campaign.
Let’s be clear: If Joe Biden ran like Bernie, he would probably lose to Donald Trump in November.
After all, Biden won the Democratic nomination specifically by ignoring his left-wing critics. Now that he’s running in a much larger (and less progressive) electorate, it seems crazy that Biden should have to protect his left flank from “grampa socialist.” But apparently, he does.
In case you missed it, Sanders reportedly wants Biden to talk more about health care and economic plans, and to campaign “more with figures popular among young liberals, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.” (On Sunday, Bernie denied expressing concerns about Biden’s campaign, while simultaneously expressing concerns about Biden’s campaign.)
When it comes to exciting progressives, Sanders is in Cooperstown. Were I speaking at an SDS meeting, I would always defer to his judgment. But when it comes to winning presidential races, his record is 0-for-2. So no, Biden (1-for-3) should not campaign with AOC.
And, oh yeah, there’s also this: BIDEN IS WINNING!
To the extent that Biden has had recent scares, the danger lies not with the progressive base. (I mean, it seems pretty clear that Biden’s challenges with Cuban voters in Miami—a serious development, to be sure—are not due to his not being socialist enough for anti-Castro voters.)
So it’s worth asking this question: Why would Bernie—with just 50 days left —want to criticize a campaign that is (by all metrics) winning? After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
I have a theory. The problem isn’t that Biden’s losing, it’s how Biden’s winning. He’s winning with a broad coalition. He’s winning while condemning rioting and looting. He’s winning while saying he doesn’t want to ban fracking. He’s winning while saying that he doesn’t want to defund the police. He’s winning by avoiding the phrase “Green New Deal.” From the progressive activist’s perspective, winning this kind of election isn't just unsatisfying, it’s arguably worse than losing.
Imagine we’re talking in mid-November, and the narrative is that Joe Biden won because he ran a centrist campaign. He won with John Kasich’s convention speech—and Mike Bloomberg’s money. This narrative does not foster the kind of mandate that Sanders and AOC want or need.
The intra-party fight is just as important to them (possibly more important) than the election. And the more Biden wins without progressives, the harder it’s going to be to argue, post hoc, that Democrats must pursue policies that attract and excite progressives (instead of, say, Never Trump Republicans). This isn’t just a battle over whether a campaign should focus on firing up the base versus growing their coalition—it’s a battle over what the Democratic Party should look like. That is, I suspect, what this is really about.
Yes, Bernie’s a true believer in socialist dogma, so that’s probably blinding him to some of the political realities Biden sees. But Sanders also has a conflict of interest when it comes to dispensing political advice. After all, as the saying goes, it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it. (Even if Sanders’ motives aren’t primarily pecuniary, the quote—which is attributed to fellow traveler Upton Sinclair—is apt.)
To be fair, Bernie probably does have a point about one thing: Biden has a visceral populist appeal, yes, but it probably wouldn’t hurt him to talk even more about jobs and wages. It’s feasible for Biden to do some of the things Bernie wants without alienating middle America. Don’t forget that Democrats won big in 2018 by (a) running centrist candidates also (b) talking a lot about health care.
But some of this unsolicited advice (such as campaigning with AOC) is just stupid. What is more, it’s simply unhelpful to have it leaking out that Bernie is concerned about Biden. If nothing else, this could actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy that creates a heretofore non-existent base problem for Biden.
I guess it’s hard to blame Bernie for fomenting a revolution. For the sake of America, here’s hoping the Berniecrats lose this internecine power struggle. Perhaps Democrats should do what Fox News hosts do when they mess up? It’s time for Bernie to take an unscheduled vacation, perhaps to relive his honeymoon in the former Soviet Union.
When Sanders bounced back from his heart attack and held a rally in New York City, I joked that his walk-on music should have been Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart.” Now, I think Democrats should be singing another one of the band’s hit tunes: “Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).”