Now Is Not the Time for Doomerism, Here Is What Sanders Must Do Now

Joe Biden is a huge liability in the general. The Democratic nomination is far from being a forgone conclusion and Elizabeth Warren has the leverage to ensure this.

If some two months ago you told me that Bernie Sanders was going to win the popular vote in the first three primaries, win the largest state in the country — California, and come in a close 2nd place in Texas, I would have asked you who your dealer is. Indeed, before the left curls up and cries, let’s take honest stock of where we are, where we’ve been, and where we could be going.

As of 6:33 pm EST, the most recent count taken by the Associated Press shows Joe Biden holding 566 delegates to Sanders’ 501. A 65 delegate delta is a close race when taking into account the remaining 60% of delegates still in play in future contests. Furthermore, the final California count likely won’t be fully tallied for weeks due to the backlog of mail-in ballots. With over 120 delegates still left to be awarded in CA, and hundreds of delegates still extant across the rest of the Super Tuesday states, there is a decent chance Sanders could actually end up winning the final Super Tuesday delegate haul. Nevertheless, the narrative of Sanders suffering a resounding defeat to Biden’s “resurgence” is fully baked in at this point. Again, based on polls taken less than 60 days ago, last night was actually an underwhelming performance for Biden.

The sudden propulsion of Biden back to frontrunner status over the latter half of last week was a function of the following dynamics. Firstly, the huge endorsement of Jim Clyburn. The amount of pull this endorsement ended up having tells us something very important — many voters are less concerned with ideology and more concerned with simply defeating Donald Trump. Because they are unsure, even now, of which candidate has the best chance to defeat Trump, they are looking towards leaders they trust to guide them in their decision. This rings especially true for older voters. This is crucial because it means in the general election, virtually all of these voters — high propensity voters — would come out to vote for Sanders in order to defeat Trump. Further proof of this non-idealogical based voting was demonstrated by exit polls which showed Medicare For All — a key Sanders position — being supported by a majority of voters in every single state last night.

While both will attract high-propensity voters to come out in opposition to another four years of Trump, only Sanders actually has the grassroots movement to energize broad coalitions of people — including young voters — to come out and vote in November. Sanders also has the added benefit of being able to string together coherent sentences without forgetting things halfway through them. Sanders also never lied about getting arrested while protesting alongside Nelson Mandela, but somehow Joe Biden did a few weeks ago and the media quietly ignored that. Nor does Sanders feature in volumes of footage in which he inappropriately interacts with very young girls, but Joe Biden sure does. Additionally, Bernie Sanders didn’t write the disastrous ‘94 Crime Bill or the ’95 Counterterrorism Bill which later became the Patriot Act — Joe Biden did. Bernie Sanders also didn’t vote against gay marriage in 1996 — Joe Biden did. Bernie Sanders didn’t vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 which undoubtedly contributed to the Great Recession of 2008 — Joe Biden did. Bernie Sanders didn’t vote for the destructive and wasteful war in Iraq — Joe Biden did. Bernie Sanders didn’t vote against bankruptcy protections for students in 2005 — Joe Biden did. Bernie Sanders isn’t under imminent threat of being subpoenaed in investigations, whether imagined or real, concerning shady Ukrainian dealings — Joe Biden is. Bernie Sanders has called for expansions to Social Security for as long as he has been in office — Joe Biden has fought for the exact opposite his entire career. Joe Biden is a liability of epic proportions in a general election. If you think all of this and more won't be weaponized against Joe Biden in the general election by the ruthlessly effective Republican media apparatus and the institutional support of presidential incumbency, you are sorely mistaken. If you think Donald Trump won’t cynically wield working-class malaise to attack Joe Biden from the left on his horrific Social Security record, you are simply in denial. If you don’t see the glaring similarities between Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign and Joe Biden’s contemporary campaign, you’re either a paid consultant for the DNC or simply aren’t paying attention.

Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Going back to Jim Clyburn’s endorsement, what followed was a big win in SC for Biden — the first state ever won by the former vice president in three presidential runs. Once the results in SC were announced, the establishment went into desperation overdrive. This was the second dynamic that led to Biden’s reemergence. Strings were pulled and calls were made. Barack Obama apparently told South Bend Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, that he “now has leverage and should consider how to use it”. Seemingly overnight, the establishment had coalesced around Biden in impressive fashion.

Those on the left should take this as a positive sign for their movement. This proves the desperation of the establishment. The establishment knows, perhaps better than anyone, the deterioration of Biden. They clearly see how many steps he has lost and it’s why they waited until the last possible moment to rally behind him. It’s why Obama still hasn’t officially endorsed him. And let’s be clear, this is politics. Some leftists have whined of “rigging”, but this is exactly what politics is at the end of the day and crying about it on twitter won’t change that nor help the Sanders campaign. Sanders has made it clear himself that he isn’t just going up against the Republican establishment or the media establishment, although he certainly is, his most vitriolic belligerent during this entire primary season has been and will be, the incestuous, corporatized, Democratic establishment.

The Sanders campaign isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and as such should learn from the past in order to better calibrate for the future. Unlike the traditional corporate-funded campaign, Sanders has millions of working-class donors, most of whom are nowhere near their donation limits, and will continue to support him up until the convention should it come to that. Just last month the Sanders campaign raised $46.5 million — the most of any 2020 candidate by far. To that end, there are a few changes the campaign must make going forward.

Firstly, Sanders will need to get a lot more aggressive in his opposition to Joe Biden. No more “ — and Joe is a good friend of mine” qualifying. Sanders needs to translate his somewhat abstract criticisms of the billionaire class into more concrete and highly focused assaults on Joe Biden. Instead of saying “Joe has 60 billionaires funding him”, Sanders needs to get more personal with his critique and equivocate that Biden is directly supplanted by the same CEOs price-gouging your medicine and the same credit card CEOs doing everything they can to bankrupt you and garnish your wages. Attacks like these that come across more personally to voters can then be tied to Joe Biden’s policy record regarding the Bankruptcy bill, for example. Something like this would be a deadly one-two punch in a debate between the two. Biden will already be struggling immensely come the next debate simply because of the winnowing of the field equating to more talking time being allotted to both him and Sanders. The Biden campaign strategy thus far has largely revolved around minimizing Biden’s exposure and speaking time precisely because of his deterioration and inability to avoid gaffes when he speaks. Sanders must exploit this.

Sanders will also need to improve his numbers with older voters. As mentioned above, I have no doubt that many of these high propensity voters will vote for Sanders in a general election, but this is a primary election and Sanders must win more of them over now if he is to get to the general election. Sanders must absolutely hammer Biden on his decades-long record of pushing for cuts to Social Security. Likewise, Sanders must drill down, in personal terms once more, that it is Joe Biden who is directly responsible for you losing your good-paying union job in the wake of NAFTA's passing alongside millions of other Americans. Sanders must revoke the ability for voters to ever trust Joe Biden. In conjunction with this strategy, Sanders should play to the nostalgia of older voters by harkening back to FDR, the civil rights movement, and the general esteem that is held by older voters for Eisenhower, JFK, and LBJ. Employ them in rhetorical ways that demonstrate to voters the power of movement politics alongside bold ideas with equally bold actions to back them. Utilize the 40s-60s American golden-age/middle-class explosion as proof of this. Remind voters of a time when America accomplished great things “not because they were easy, but because they were hard”. Use this to shutdown Biden and all centrist logic which dictates we cannot meet the standards of the rest of the developed world when it comes to healthcare, for instance.

One has to wonder what exactly is Warren’s play at this point in the race. She had no path to victory prior to Tuesday and certainly has none now. The amount of leverage she currently holds will never be any higher than it is at present. Her campaign’s leverage has peaked so how will she wield it? It’s hard to say, but if she truly believes the progressive values she espouses then the choice should be quite clear for her. With Mike Bloomberg dropping out of the race and endorsing Biden earlier today, Biden’s support has fully saturated. There are no more pieces left to be sacrificed in order to strengthen his consolidation. Put ideologies aside for a moment, Biden doesn’t gain much from a Warren endorsement at this point, and the result is Biden is unlikely to offer much in return. Endorsing Biden would be a poor use of Warrens's political leverage. Furthermore, considering the two’s history of politically butting heads, I’m not convinced Biden would let Warren work the way she would like to under a Biden administration as say, VP or Treasury Secretary. By all rational measures, endorsing Biden is an ideological as well as political mismatch for Warren. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is in a more precarious position right now and ripe to benefit more from a Warren endorsement. As such, Sanders will likely be willing to offer more in the way of concessions to Warren. If Warren is smart, she’ll take advantage of this. Moreover, if she actually is the progressive she says she is, she’ll do it sooner rather than later.

Sanders and Warren at the July 31st Democratic Debate

An endorsement from Warren could be crucial for Sanders as there is no intervening event between now and the next block of states voting Tuesday (ID, MI, MS, MO, ND, WA), March 10th. Biden will happily ride his momentum into next week's states, but Warren holds the power to greatly blunt this and turn the tides in Sanders’ favor. From there, the next debate is where Sanders could expose Biden prior to March 17th when Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and Ohio, all hold their state’s primaries.

Hopefully, this has tempered your worries slightly if you belong to the Sanders coalition. The path ahead is rocky, but not insurmountable whatsoever. Don’t let the false sense of security that winning the first three state’s gave you sink you into a doomer mindset now that reality has checked back into the game. A closely heated race was to be expected from the start. Keep on fighting every way that you can, and when the dust settles, trust that the American people will elect the only candidate capable of leading us in the general election against Trump, and beyond.

Economics student committed to leveraging the power of data science from a left/humanist international perspective; for the good of all and not the few.

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