Biden faces tricky test in unifying party

Biden faces tricky test in unifying party
© Greg Nash

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE faces a tricky few weeks as he seeks to reach out to Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump, Biden clash over health care as debate begins Biden calls Trump a 'liar' and a 'clown' at first debate Biden mocks Trump campaign debate claims: 'I've got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready' MORE supporters while unifying the Democratic Party against President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE.

With the nomination all but certain for Biden, Democrats say he must lure Sanders loyalists to his side without offending them as he pivots from the primary to the general election.

“It’s very hard,” Addisu Demissie, who served as campaign manager on Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerWarren won't meet with Barrett, calling Trump's nomination an 'illegitimate power grab' Schumer won't meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick This week: Senate kicks off Supreme Court fight MORE’s presidential campaign, said of the delicate position in which Biden finds himself in the coming days.

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He said Biden will have to dance delicately, particularly as Sanders continues to battle for the nomination. The two are set to meet Sunday for the first head-to-head debate of the Democratic primary.

“It’s about how Biden conducts himself,” Demissie said. “You have to not be presumptuous and say it’s a foregone conclusion.”

Demissie, who also worked on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton after debate: 'Everyone better vote' Hillary Clinton: 'Black Lives Matter' is 'very profoundly a theological statement' House in near-unanimous vote affirms peaceful transfer of power MORE’s 2016 campaign and lived through the heated primary battle with Sanders, said while Biden needs to let his opponent come to his own conclusion and give space to supporters, time is also of the essence. 

“You can’t wait to change your messaging and focus,” he said. “Every day you lose is a day you can’t get back.”

During coverage of the primary results on MSNBC on Tuesday night, cable host Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowThe Memo: Debate or debacle? Fox News tops broadcast networks for first time in 3rd quarter Glenn Greenwald tells Megyn Kelly he has been 'formally banned' from MSNBC MORE highlighted the precarious spot Biden finds himself in, echoing the sentiment of many Democrats who do not want a repeat of the 2016 election. 

“Every Democrat knows that you can't just pretend Sen. Sanders and his movement don't exist,” Maddow said. “They do exist ... and they're an important part of the Democratic coalition. Being at war with them heading into the general election is suicidal.”

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Biden allies say they are taking that sentiment to heart as the primary inches closer to the general election. The former vice president himself appeared to extend an olive branch to Sanders and his supporters in an address on Tuesday night, after winning the Mississippi, Missouri and Michigan primaries. 

More than anything, he reminded Sanders supporters of the larger goal of defeating Trump. 

“I want to thank Bernie Sanders and his supporters for their tireless energy and their passion,” he said in the speech in Philadelphia, held before a small audience of staffers and journalists because of concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. “We share a common goal and together we will defeat Donald Trump.”

Some Democratic strategists hailed Biden’s approach, arguing it would help to unify the party. 

“I think step one, which they are doing well so far, is what you’ve seen Biden and his staff say … they’re smartly giving Bernie and his supporters all the time and space they need to make whatever decision they decide to make,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale. “Then a lot of unity is going to happen organically from people coming together to defeat Trump.”

Vale said the next step is for Biden to reach out to Sanders supporters to make the case that he can also be good for them if elected. Vale said it can’t just be about opposing the current president.

He described it as “reaching out to them and not just with ‘Trump sucks,’ but explaining why Biden and his policies are good for them and the country.”

Sanders on Wednesday, in an address laying out his intention to stay in the race, reaffirmed the point that Biden and the Democratic establishment need to do a better job reaching out to younger voters. 

“Today I say to the Democratic establishment: In order to win in the future, you need to win the voters who represent the future of our country,” Sanders said, adding that the Biden campaign “cannot simply be satisfied” by winning older voters. 

In an interview, Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz echoed Sanders’s sentiments, and said “there’s a long way to go” for the Biden campaign to bring Sanders supporters into the fold. 

“If I’m the Biden campaign I want to show the Sanders voters that there’s a place for them in the Biden coalition,” Katz said. “If we’re going to win in November, we have to show all of the voters we care about them. They have to feel like they are a part of the Democratic party.”

Tensions among Democrats are clear, with some arguing forcefully that attacks on Biden represent support for Trump.

“If you attack Joe Biden today, please send me your address so I can send you a MAGA hat,” Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas wrote on Twitter. “He is our nominee.” 

In an email to The Hill, Petkanas said the party needs to unite and anything else will help Trump be reelected. 

“Anyone with access to a calculator can see that Joe Biden will be our nominee,” he said. “Therefore, any attacks on him from this moment forward only serve to weaken him in the general election and should be considered in-kind contributions to Donald Trump's re-election campaign.”