Biden's general election strategy comes into focus

Biden's general election strategy comes into focus
© Getty Images

With coronavirus dominating the news, the Biden campaign has smartly gone into a virtual lockdown. Biden will be the Democratic nominee, and he will get it on his terms. Not only is Biden defeating Bernie SandersBernie SandersHouse Democrats to keep minimum wage hike in COVID-19 relief bill for Friday vote Sanders slams parliamentarian decision on minimum wage Parliamentarian nixes minimum wage hike in coronavirus bill MORE by a wide margin, the coronavirus has resulted in Sanders having zero ability to get his revolution any oxygen.

In what will have been the last debate of the primary and in subsequent days we are seeing Biden’s strategy slowly unfold. We now have a good indication on his Vice-Presidential nominee and on how he plans on positioning himself on the issues.

First off, Biden will almost certainly pick Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisTo unite America, Biden administration must brace for hate Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Grassley to vote against Tanden nomination MORE (D-Calif.) and use that pick to short circuit any complaints from the progressive left about his issue positions. Biden’s declaration that he would name a woman as his running mate just confirms what was obvious for months. Some analysts think the choice will be tough, but that’s ridiculous. Harris checks all the boxes: female, minority, the right age, acquitted herself decently on the big stage and knows how to play second fiddle.


Best of all for Harris is that she makes it very difficult for the hardcore left to opposed Biden as he is essentially turning the future leadership of the Democratic Party over to a minority woman. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMinimum wage setback revives progressive calls to nix Senate filibuster Democratic strategists start women-run media consulting firm Becerra says he wants to 'build on' ObamaCare when pressed on Medicare for All MORE (D-Mass.) not only is too old, but she would be a terrible running mate — making demands of her own. Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (D-Miss.) brings nothing that Harris doesn’t — without minority status.

Beyond the VP selection, Biden is giving very little issue ground to Sanders. And he definitely should not. Sanders’ appeal is limited to the hardcore left and particularly the young hardcore left and has the hallmarks of a trendy mania rather than a real political movement.

While it is true that very liberal voters are less supportive of Biden, those tepid feelings pale in comparison to how much they detest President TrumpDonald TrumpDonald Trump Jr. calls Bruce Springsteen's dropped charges 'liberal privilege' Schiff sees challenges for intel committee, community in Trump's shadow McConnell says he'd back Trump as 2024 GOP nominee MORE. Liberals disapprove of Trump at all levels and on all issues. On the Trump-Biden ballot test, Democrats generally plump for Biden 89 percent to 5 percent, while self-identified liberals opt for Biden 87 percent to 5 percent — a difference well within the margin of error.

While it is also true that liberals are less approving overall of Biden (69 percent approve, 26 percent disapprove) as opposed to all Democrats (76 percent approve to 20 percent disapprove), it hardly seems likely that Trump will peel off more than a sliver of Sanders liberals. Even so, Biden is collecting his own scraps of Republicans (6 percent) and conservatives (9 percent).

In short, Sanders has been swamped at the ballot box, and liberal voters not only have nowhere else to go, they don’t seem to want to. Biden’s team seems to have figured that out, given his performance at the debate and his actions since.


At the final debate, Biden did not give any more ground to Sanders than he has given to the progressive left throughout his candidacy. More than that, Biden took some important, if tentative, steps toward the center. He heavily criticized Sanders for the Vermont Senator’s kind words for Cuba and China. He refused to be pushed into backing a Medicare-for-all blank check.

The most significant signal that Biden is going to make a play to bring back blue-collar voters from Trump was his position on climate change. Biden made an emphatic point that he would expect other countries to shoulder part of the carbon reduction burden or face sanctions. On multiple occasions Biden noted that 85 percent of carbon emissions are from other countries — that is a clear marker for the trade unions, particularly autoworkers and steelworkers, that he won’t walk away from those industries.

Biden’s move on climate change and lack of movement on health care is a significant pivot for Biden. Health care (35 percent) and climate change (17 percent) are the top two issues for Democrats and for liberals (35 percent and 25 percent, respectively). For Biden to back away from the most extreme progressive positions on the most important issues for Democrats and liberals is the first “triangulation” step for the general election.

Biden and his campaign intelligently had been quiet during the coronavirus pandemic, but he has recently begun “shadow cabinet” style videos from his home. It’s an attempt to get Biden some media, when the president is dominating the airwaves — but it’s also a major gamble. Too much is uncertain as to how Trump will handle this. Peremptory second-guessing could be a disaster.

There is plenty of time for recriminations before November. Instead, Biden should stick to his plan to placate the progressive left with Kamala Harris and his refusal to fully tack to the left on health care and climate change.

Biden has his strategic plan, he should make the most of the waiting game.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, is a public affairs consultant who specialized in Pennsylvania judicial elections. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711