Progressives eye new strategies in case of 2024 opening

Aaron Schwartz

Progressives are already talking about what they would need to do differently to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination should President Biden opt not to run in 2024. 

They’re cautioning that any left-wing candidates must learn from past mistakes to have a shot at becoming the nominee and winning the general election against a tough Republican opponent. 

That requires bringing new ideas onto the national stage, denouncing some mainstream Democrats and possibly even running a fresh slate of candidates, they say. 

Biden has said he intends to run for a second term and prominent liberals say they’ll support him. 

“I’m not running for president in 2024. I’m running for Senate,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to journalist Kristen Welker, who followed up by asking if she would “rule it out” entirely. “You can ask it any way you want but I’m gonna say the same thing. President Biden is running in 2024 and I’m supporting him. Cheerfully.”  

But some in the party, eyeing the president’s poll numbers and a disruptive midterm cycle, are at least starting to ponder what they would need to do if he steps aside. 

“If all the Republicans offer is a nosedive and all the Democrats offer is a managed decline, then this country is going down,” Marianne Williamson, a spiritual author and activist, told The Hill. 

“If the best Democrats can offer is an alleviation of people’s distress, then it won’t work,” she said. “If they offer fundamental economic reform, then it will. But for that to even be believable they’re going to have to create a whole lot more of it over the next two years.”

Williamson, who mounted an insurgent presidential campaign in 2020, is elevating concerns raised by many progressives that former President Trump or Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis could be the next Republican nominee.  

With Biden’s approval ratings lower than ever, some voices on the left have called for more strategic vision in recent days, while prompting speculation about what the next White House cycle could look like if things get worse.  

“It’s not going to work in 2024 if all Democrats do is try to warn people that ‘we’re not Trump’ or ‘we’re not DeSantis,’” she said. “The only way to defeat either of them will be to provide an actual alternative to the neoliberal principles that dominate both parties at this point.”

Like many progressives, Williamson believes it will take more than politics as usual — the kind of return to normalcy that narrowly sent Biden into office — to beat a right-wing rival next time. Asked if she’d consider running for president again herself, she did not shut the door on the idea completely.

“I just want to do whatever I can to help interrupt the status quo and be part of the solution,” Williamson said. “What that means I’m not sure yet.”  

Others are discussing how things need to change more broadly ahead of the upcoming elections. 

In addition to Warren, who turned up the heat on Biden last week by writing a New York Times op-ed warning that the party could lose Congress if Democrats don’t act decisively, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also stoked questions about a third bid. 

Sanders’s former campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, wrote a memo informing supporters that the senator hasn’t necessarily ruled out another run if Biden declines one. The letter was first reported by The Washington Post

For now, the sporadic conversations — which are happening among activists, those friendly to progressive lawmakers and some left-wing media figures — signify a desire to build on the momentum sparked by past populist campaigns, but with the necessary changes to actually win. 

“They would have to show what’s going to be different this time,” said Cenk Uygur, a host of “The Young Turks.” “If these two want to run again, they would have to show that they can actually fight the corporate wing of their own party, because I haven’t seen that yet.” 

That logic extends beyond just Warren and Sanders. 

Progressives suffered significant legislative bruises during negotiations with moderates, which caused some skepticism about the left’s approach and effectiveness. That became more apparent during talks around the Build Back Better agenda, where members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus pushed to include expansive social spending and climate provisions, only to have those priorities trimmed back several times before ultimately ending up on the chopping block after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) refused to vote for them. 

There’s also electoral uncertainty. In the lead-up to November, progressives challenging incumbents from Texas to Illinois face tough bids. Last week, Biden took the rare step of endorsing Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) over progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner in an Oregon congressional primary, infuriating many advocates. And while the “squad” could soon see more members, others are cautious about appearing too optimistic. Democrats are widely expected to lose the House, which would automatically blunt their ability to govern.  

With that in mind, some on the left are looking to leap past the midterms to the possibility of an open presidential race where a range of candidates would get to compete for airtime. 

That thinking is not without reason. A new Harvard CAPS-Harris poll released on Monday found that 63 percent of respondents said they didn’t want Biden to run again. 

“At this point, I’d rather back someone outside the box that has some fight in them,” Uygur said. 

In the Midwest, Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner, who co-chaired Sanders’s campaign, is challenging Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) in a rematch for a Cleveland-area House seat. 

A source close to Turner’s campaign said that the firebrand public speaker and former state senator is often approached to launch a national bid.  

Unlike other activists who have taken a more collaborative approach to working with Biden and the administration, Turner represents something different. If she ran, she would enter the election having been a staunch critic of the president — a line few other progressives have been willing to cross while he’s in office.  

There’s also a strong desire for more racial diversity among left-wing presidential candidates, some acknowledge. Sanders, Warren and Williamson are all white. 

“A lot of people in the movement are urging her to run for president because of those reasons,” said the source familiar with Turner’s operation. “We need a bold progressive, an uncompromising progressive, on the debate stage. It will shift the conversation about what the party should do.” 

That overt Biden criticism could inspire others to bring sharper elbows into the public discourse, using tactics that some believe will be advantageous against the eventual Republican nominee. 

“Showing you can fight in a Democratic primary is a good prelude to showing you can fight Donald Trump,” Uygur said. “If you’re afraid to lay a glove on a primary challenger, you’re probably going to get steamrolled.”

Tags 2024 presidential election Biden Kristen Welker Marianne Williamson Progressive politics progressives Trump Warren

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