Biden must first unite the party to defeat Trump

While Super Tuesday’s dramatic results have boosted former Vice President Joe Biden more than anyone predicted, it’s still not enough, not yet. Nothing less than Biden going into the convention in Milwaukee with a sizable majority will convince most supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to rally around “Uncle Joe” as the nominee. 

Fortunately, Biden’s current 70-delegate lead is certain to grow, since he will likely win by large margins — 30 points or more — in the South, giving him huge net delegate gains in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and other states. Even if Sanders wins a few primaries, it will be by very narrow margins, so he will gain only a few net delegates more than Biden in those contests, and likely never catch up.

Still, healing the rift between centrist and far-left Democrats is important to driving Biden’s turnout in the fall — and will not be that easy. After all, Sanders is a Democratic Socialist who has made it clear for many years that he believes he is leading a cause — a movement — rather than just a campaign. On the stump, Sanders is sounding increasingly paranoid, railing against the “political establishment… coming together, and they will do anything and everything” to stop him, he says.

In fact, analysis of Bernie’s Super Tuesday results finds that his cohort of voters was smaller than in 2016, and he has shown no ability to expand his base. Leading experts like Ron Brownstein suggest Sanders seems to want “a hostile takeover of the party [rather] than a merger with it” — even though Sanders’ electoral appeal seems to be shrinking among Democratic voters.

No matter what the delegate totals, Sanders will clearly drag his campaign out all the way through the last primary. And his supporters are ardent and devoted — they cannot be counted on to change horses easily.

So, Biden must focus in coming days on burnishing his already substantial progressive credentials to unite the party. Biden can show Sanders’ supporters that he will fight for many of the causes — limiting climate change, providing universal health care coverage, addressing income equality, raising taxes on the super-rich, greater access to education —  that they care about. In point of fact, on every one of these issues, Biden has policy proposals that are more aggressive than not only those of President Obama, but also Hillary Clinton. Biden doesn’t need new policy positions to attract progressive and younger voters, he just needs to talk about his current proposals more.

Indeed, Biden has the perfect combination of characteristics to unite the party — center-left credentials and experience to appeal to moderates, strong allegiance of black voters, union support and roots in swing states like Pennsylvania that can help throughout the key Great Lakes region, and serious reformist policy proposals that are important to progressive activists.

Biden’s experience in the Senate, long portrayed as an “establishment” electoral drag, could in fact be critical not just to passing legislation once in office, but to boosting Democratic candidates so they can gain a Senate majority. Biden is likely to run very well in the states like North Carolina, Maine, Colorado, and even Arizona and Montana, that could decide the Senate control.

The counter-narrative of a Sanders nomination is stark, as honest activists must admit. Sanders would have a chilling effect on thousands of Democrats down ballot, perhaps even putting the House majority at risk, and risking state houses and legislatures immediately ahead of the key 2020 census implementation.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who won no states Tuesday while finishing third in her native Massachusetts, could yet play a helpful role simply by not endorsing Sanders. Instead, she should act as a bridge to the left, utilizing her continuing popularity with suburban women to help Biden beat Trump in the fall.

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg moved overnight from a potential impediment to endorsing Biden and — far more importantly — saying he might spend up to hundreds of millions to help Biden beat Trump. This could tilt another key dynamic in Biden’s favor, as Trump has already been advertising and making social media buys in key general election states, but now Biden may not have to “go dark” in those markets while also finishing off Sanders. And in practical terms, much of Bloomberg’s money should go to helping Democrats in key Senate races a strategy to which he seemed open, since Sen. Mitch McConnell as majority leader would prevent the enactment of a great deal of Biden’s reformist policy agenda.

When you add it all up, the case for Biden becomes overwhelming, even for many movement progressives.

Under any circumstance, the reforms Sanders’ supporters seek were never going to occur quickly or completely, but many could happen incrementally with Biden in the White House. Even a leading far-left figure like Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) now says she will support Biden if he’s the nominee.

Millions of American progressives rightly concerned with finding a progressive candidate who can beat Donald Trump may have finally found their man. It’s just not who they thought it would be.

Paul Bledsoe is president of Bledsoe & Associates, a policy and communications consultancy. He is also a lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served as staff member in the U.S. House, Senate Finance Committee, Interior Department and on President Bill Clinton’s White House Climate Change Task Force.

Tags 2020 election Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Democratic Party Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign Mitch McConnell moderate Democrats progressive Democrats

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