Democratic Primary News

What went right for Biden and wrong for Sanders.

News

Nick OttensNick Ottensis the founder and editor of the Atlantic Sentinel.
Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4 (Phil Roeder)
  • Joe Biden has become the presumptive Democratic nominee.
  • Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, his last two opponents, have ended their campaigns and endorsed the former vice president.
  • So have Barack Obama, the former president, and Elizabeth Warren, another former rival.

What went right for Biden

When Sanders performed well in the first three primaries, the Democratic Party realized it might accidentally nominate a self-described socialist and sprung into action.

Biden, already popular with African Americans, was able to revive his lackluster candidacy on the back of Congressman Jim Clyburn’s endorsement in South Carolina. Other party leaders, including Harry Reid in Nevada, publicly supported Biden as well. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, Biden’s center-left competitors, bowed out before the crucial Super Tuesday contests — the first having been nudged to do so by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Obama — and threw their support behind him. Voters got the message. By the middle of March, Biden had built up an insurmountable lead in delegates needed to win the nomination.

When Donald Trump took over the Republican Party in 2016, and reversed its long-held positions on everything from family values to trade to relations with Russia, the theory that “the party decides”, by nudging voters toward the candidate who is both the most electable and best represents the party’s interests, looked out of date. Democrats have given it a new lease on life.

The reason, according to political scientists Matt Grossmann and David Hopkins, is that Democrats are not an ideological party. The Republican Party is the agent of the American conservative movement. Once that movement decided it wanted Trump, elected and party officials fell in line. Democrats are better understood as a coalition of interest groups: college graduates, environmentalists, ethnic and sexual minorities, women, union workers. They are used to bargaining among themselves, which made Sanders’ movement, which prized ideological purity over the practicalities of governing, such a poor fit.

What went wrong for Sanders

Sanders didn’t expand his coalition. When he ran in 2016, he benefited from being the anti-Hillary Clinton and won 43 percent support. This time around, he seldom polled over 30 percent nationally. Most Democrats were skeptical of his “political revolution” and doubtful a candidate who defended Fidel Castro’s literacy program could defeat Trump.

Sanders ran against the Democratic Party and lost. Rather than appeal to moderate and conservative Democrats, who are as sizable a bloc as self-styled liberals, he consolidated the left and hoped new voters would put him over the top. They never showed up. Read more

Leftists should take heart

Leftists who are thinking of sitting out the 2020 election because Sanders didn’t win should take heart: Biden is running on the most progressive platform in living memory.

The former vice president doesn’t want to nationalize health insurance, like Sanders, but he does want to introduce a public insurance plan, eliminate copays for primary care, raise the eligibility threshold for insurance subsidies under Obamacare and lower the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60. If enacted, his reforms would be the most progressive in American health care since Medicaid and Medicare were created.

Other Biden plans include achieving 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, raising teachers’ salaries, expanding access to pre-kindergarten, making the first two years of community college debt-free, banning assault weapons, ending the online sale of firearms and ammunitions, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour nationally and raising federal taxes by $340 billion to pay for everything — more than double what Clinton called for in 2016. Read more


Subscribe to our weekly newsletter