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Biden's choice and the left's response

Biden's choice and the left's response
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Joe BidenJoe Biden 64 percent of Iowans say 'time for someone else' to hold Grassley's Senate seat: poll Philadelphia shooting leaves 2 dead, injures toddler Ron Johnson booed at Juneteenth celebration in Wisconsin MORE's presidency appears to depend on threading the needle between Democrats’ left and moderates. This is an illusion; he must choose one or risk losing both. The big question is, what will the left do when he chooses moderates? Those imagining the left will not have their own choice should look back four decades. 

Biden won the nomination and then the presidency by being all things to all Democrats. He positioned himself as a moderate, while promising himself to the left. Although a career establishment moderate, Biden moved left to win a left-dominated party. 

While going left, Biden was always careful to not go as far as his multitude of left rivals. Doing so, he held the Black vote and let the left split itself among its multiplicity of choices. Still, his strategy could only succeed because the left saw him as a viable means for their priorities as well as their opportunity to beat Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE

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Now Biden is beyond premising and promising; he will soon be governing. While campaigns give candidates great flexibility, the office gives reality. Unlike campaign promises, which are intended to leave people appeased, office choices often leave people aggrieved — even if a president does not intend it. Ultimately, a president must choose one way as he sets his course or risk looking rudderless.  

So, Biden must choose — and will be seen to have chosen, even if unintended — between Democrats’ left and moderates. It will not be easy.

The left is more important within the Democrat Party. It is the party’s ideological majority, or at least its plurality. It is unquestionably the driving force and its greatest source of energy. As evidence, just look at its 2020 field, which was overwhelmingly left. The left feel they won Biden the presidency and that he owes them. 

Moderates are more important in the general electorate. In 2016, exit polling (more accurate than 2020’s) recorded them at 39 percent of the electorate, versus just 26 percent for liberals. While not as turbulent as the left, moderates are the water beneath the rapids. They still have undue influence in the party too. As evidence, there is Biden himself and the left’s acceptance of him over their own candidates. Moderates feel they won the presidency for Biden and that he owes them. 

On broad balance, Biden will have to go with moderates when there is a conflict. They are more important in the crucial general election. Also, because they are in the ideological spectrum’s center, they are closer to conservative positions and, therefore, there is greater risk they could desert Biden for a Republican.  

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In contrast, Biden is likely to discount the risk of losing the left once he is president. The left’s greatest threat to him was in the 2020 primaries; no incumbent has been denied renomination in over 150 years

Biden is therefore likely to assume that the left have nowhere else to go now. While such a conclusion may be logical, the question remains whether the left will agree. The belief that the left will have no recourse is contrary to their 1980 response.

In 1980, the left deemed a Democrat the president too moderate and backed a left challenger all the way into the convention. The left’s icon, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), challenged President Carter in the primaries. While he failed to deny Carter renomination, he won 12 contests and almost 40 percent of the primary votes cast. 

A lot has changed in the Democratic Party since 1980. As evidence, compare the two presidents. Carter, a moderate could win as a moderate then; Biden, a career moderate, could not win as one in 2020. Willing to challenge a moderate then, how much more willing will a far stronger left be now? Forty years ago, there was only one real left alternative — Kennedy; in 2020, there were far more left alternatives than there were moderate ones in the Democratic primaries. 

The left would also have their reasons for such a challenge. It could help push Biden back to where they thought — and want — him to be. It would also underscore their strength in the party — something they welcomed doing when Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay MORE (I-Vt.) battled Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Monica Lewinsky responds to viral HBO intern's mistake: 'It gets better' Virginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP MORE all the way to the 2016 convention. Finally, it could give one of their numbers a head start in 2028. 

A parting of the ways is coming for Biden and the left. When pushed, he has no choice but to choose moderates over the left. The only question is what the left’s response will be when he does. If 1980 is any indication, the left will push back — hard.  

J.T. Young served under President George W. Bush as the director of communications in the Office of Management and Budget and as deputy assistant secretary in legislative affairs for tax and budget at the Treasury Department. He served as a congressional staffer from 1987 through 2000.