If Biden doesn’t run, would Bernie be the best alternative?
Republicans delight in polls showing most Democrats don’t want President Biden to run for a second term.
Well, that leads to a question: How do they feel about Bernie? As in Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
A Reuters/Ipsos poll of Democrats taken last month found that the 81-year-old Sanders is running second for the 2024 presidential nomination. With 13 percent support, he is ahead of Vice President Kamala Harris (12 percent) and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (10 percent).
Sanders’ biggest backers for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020 were young voters. Twice they pushed him to finish second. In the 2016 race he won 43 percent of the primaries’ popular vote.
Now, polls show that same cohort, young voters, is the least enthusiastic group of Democrats about another Biden run. So, will Sanders get in the race?
Sanders has made it clear he is not running. In fact, he is a fan of President Biden. “There is a general consensus out there that Biden is by no means the kind of progressive that we’d like to see,” Sanders told Bridget Read of New York magazine. “But on the other hand, he’s better than people anticipated.”
In fact, Sanders is celebrating Biden for putting money into working-class hands with the American Rescue Act and the Build Back Better plan. He condemns Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) for refusing to back more spending in those bills. He is going after Republicans for putting social safety net programs on the chopping block as part of debt-ceiling negotiations.
And Sanders continues pushing for spending on progressive policies like single-payer health care, forgiving student loan debt and stronger action to deal with climate change.
The Wall Street Journal thinks Sanders has nudged President Biden to the left; when the president called for more taxes on the rich in his state of the union speech, the paper’s conservative editorial page ran the headline “Joe Biden is Bernie Sanders.”
In many ways, former President Trump is the other side of Sanders’ populism. Trump pushed populist anger on the right by lashing out at immigrants, the Black Lives Matter movement, and transgendered people.
Sanders is pushing populist anger on the left by lashing out at rich people, corporations, and politicians who, he says, are failing to help working-class people because they are transfixed by donations from the rich and corporations.
As a journalist who watched Sanders’ rallies and debate performances, I can testify that he fires up a crowd better than Biden, Bill Clinton, or any other Democrat of recent vintage, except for the rock-star appearances of President Obama.
Sanders was in the headlines last week, again, leading the charge for working-class young people — this time, the young people trying to organize a union at Starbucks. As chair of the powerful Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), Sanders threatened to subpoena Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about the company’s labor practices.
Schultz blinked last week and agreed to testify voluntarily.
Sanders is currently on tour to sell his new book, “It’s Okay to Be Angry About Capitalism.” While pushing the book, Sanders often sounds like he is running for office. He told NPR last month that corporations have too much power and “we’re going to take them on to create a nation that works for you.”
Sanders sounded like a candidate again during an interview earlier this month with HBO’s Bill Maher. He got big applause when he called out Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos as three people who have more wealth than the bottom half of all Americans — about 170 million people. He went on to say that three Wall Street investment firms — BlackRock, State Street, and Vanguard — control more than $20 trillion of wealth.
This concentration of wealth means the U.S. is “moving rapidly towards an oligarchic form of society where the middle class declines,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Vermont senator is a champion of unions that are still the lifeblood of Democratic Party politics in terms of money, ground-game organization, and voter turnout on election days. If he ran, he probably could tap into the political power of those unions.
At age 80, Biden is the oldest president in U.S. history. That could be part of the reason why young Democrats have reservations about him.
But Sanders is 81 years old, and he suffered a heart attack in 2019.
Despite his age, Sanders continues to speak to working-class and middle-class frustration in watching the rich get richer while they struggle to pay bills. Sanders is fearless in pointing to that volcanic political fire waiting to erupt in American politics.
Writing about his 2016 presidential campaign, New York Times columnist David Brooks said that Sanders is where “the economic heart and soul of the party” is for Democrats.
Sanders still is the heart and soul of the party, and of lots of Republican party voters, too — perhaps now more than ever.
Despite Trump-inspired GOP fantasies, Sanders is not interested in dividing the Democrats. But if Biden doesn’t run, you can bet Sanders will take a third run at the White House. And he might win.
Juan Williams is an author and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
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