As former Vice President Joe Biden centers the closing weeks of his campaign around his talent for consolidating the country, he has verbally distanced himself from the notion, amplified by President Donald Trump and his GOP boosters, that he is a tool of the progressive left and anything remotely close to a “socialist.”
In doing so, some progressives believe he’s left Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) out to dry.
The latest instance came on Monday night, where he boasted that he’s “the guy who ran against the socialists” when asked by a voter during a town hall in Miami about attacks by Republicans meant to conjure up fears about communism and socialism in Cuban and Venezuelan communities. “There’s not one syllable I’ve ever said that could lead you to believe I was a socialist or communist,” Biden said.
The comment was just one of several recent remarks that Sanders’ allies have viewed as negative in tone about progressives leading up to Nov. 3. And they come as many in Sandersworld have long resisted the urge to criticize Biden until after the election.
“It’s foolish and arrogant,” a former senior Sanders aide said in a text message to The Daily Beast late Monday night. “And more importantly, absolutely unnecessary.”
“It’s not like the Republicans are going to stop calling Biden a socialist,” the source close to Sanders continued. “This is a talking point they planned to use no matter what Democrat won the primary. Furthermore, none of his other opponents in the primary are working as hard as ‘the socialist’ to get him elected!”
While Biden continues to reject any allegation that he’s too closely aligned with the more outspoken progressive faction of the party, Sanders, a self-styled Democratic socialist, has spent the final stretch of the general election virtually campaigning and fundraising on his behalf.
On Saturday, he transitioned to an in-person format, where he hosted an outdoor rally in Lebanon, New Hampshire for his old Senate colleague. Sanders won the Granite State in the past two Democratic presidential primaries, and it is one of several battlegrounds that the Biden campaign is working to keep blue in November. During the event, the Vermont senator encouraged his supporters to cast their ballots for Biden.
“Which candidate has the temperament to see us through this difficult crisis?” Sanders asked a socially-distanced crowd. “Joe Biden!” attendees replied, according to a pool report. “We need Joe Biden as our president,” Sanders added.
Earlier on Monday, Sanders traveled to Michigan, an important swing state that he also won against Hillary Clinton before it swung for Trump, where he told younger supporters who may be skeptical of Biden to vote for him anyway, according to a separate pool report.
After Trump won the election, Sanders rankled some Clinton fans who argued he did not go far enough to embrace her after extending the nominating contest longer than they wanted, an assertion that Sanders usually rebuffed by pointing to his busy travel schedule on Clinton’s behalf. This time around, Sanders allies are particularly sensitive to any insinuation that he may be sitting it out, acknowledging a shared belief among progressives and moderates that Trump is “dangerous.”
Jane O’Meara Sanders, the senator’s wife and one of his closest advisers, was instantly irked at the notion that her husband might not be doing enough to support Biden’s bid. She appeared to misinterpret a tweet (from this reporter) observing the seemingly odd nature of Biden’s fondness for emphasizing that he defeated a “socialist” while campaigning on a message to bring the nation together.
“Really? You think it’s odd that a man who has spent his life fighting for justice, for decency, for the people of our country, is doing everything possible to defeat this dangerous president is odd? I think it’s leadership, integrity, empathy. It’s the epitome of #NotMeUs,” she tweeted, before clarifying.
“Consider the response a general one to those who do criticize Bernie’s efforts to defeat Trump by electing Biden,” she wrote.
Sanders stated numerous times that he would back whoever locked up the nomination. That became apparent when he offered his endorsement of Biden in April and pledged to work with him on a variety of issue-based task forces. But despite what some of his top advisers and supporters see as a full-force effort to get the former vice president elected, some progressives view his claiming victory over a “socialist” as strategic, while others say it’s misguided.
“The success of the blue wave in the 2018 midterms was due to the three things: the Democratic base of Black voters, the monumental shift in suburban women turning out for Democrats, and a groundswell of progressive Democratic activism,” said Cooper Teboe, a Democratic strategist who advises Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Sanders’ former campaign co-chairman.
“The Biden campaign has been remarkably disciplined in staying on message. They’re betting they keep the essential Black voters that led us to victory in 2008, 2012, and 2018, and that progressive dislike of Trump is stronger than frustration with Biden, and the messaging against socialism grows the lead with suburban women.”
The Biden campaign did not comment on the record on Tuesday morning.
When faced with attacks from Trump during the presidential debate in Ohio, Biden went out of his way to state that he does not support universal health care, Sanders’ signature proposal and the focus of his policy platform in 2016 and 2020.
“Joe, you agreed with Bernie Sanders, who’s far left, on the manifesto, we call it. And that gives you socialized medicine,” Trump said, deriding Sanders on stage. “Look, hey,” Biden started to reply, before Trump cut back in. “Are you saying you didn’t agree?” Trump said. “I’m not going to listen to him. The fact of the matter is I beat Bernie Sanders,” Biden declared.
Trump continued by escalating the conversation about the margin that Biden won the Democratic primary.
“Not by much,” the president said, to which Biden replied, “I beat him by a whole hell of a lot,” and ended with, “I’m here standing facing you, old buddy.”
Sanders, for his part, was asked if he felt “disrespected” by Biden’s remarks, which Trump later ridiculed, in a post-debate appearance on ABC’s The View. “Trump lied in saying that Biden supports my view,” Sanders said. “I happen to believe that I am right. I happen to believe that the United States should join every other major country on earth and guarantee health care to all people as a human right through a Medicare for All single payer program. I absolutely believe that’s right.”
“You know what, what Joe Biden said was right: He does not agree with me. I wish he did, but he does not,” he said.
Some progressives brushed off Biden’s sweeping comments as standard fare from a nominee who has openly courted and talked positively about legislating alongside Republicans in the past.
“I don’t care what Joe Biden says before the election because we’re busy trying to save democracy. Plus, I know how conservative he is, so it’s not a surprise to me,” Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, told The Daily Beast.
But Uygur expressed an irritation that has resonated broadly with more vocal liberal Democrats supportive of Sanders. “Progressives are tired of how much establishment Democrats hate us,” he said. “They dislike us way more than they dislike Republicans—and we’re their base. It’s becoming untenable.”