If this report from Axios holds any water, Joe Biden is in the middle of some private negotiations with Bernie Sanders about this year’s DNC platform and Biden’s own policies as he prepares to move into general election mode. Uncle Joe is reportedly worried about not having gotten an official endorsement from Sanders when the latter dropped out of the race this week and wants to make sure he can bring Sanders’ supporters out to the polls for him in November. And if I were a Democratic strategist advising the Biden campaign right now I’d be seeing this as a recipe for disaster.
There’s no chance Biden will adopt Medicare for All as part of those discussions. But he could at least move in Sanders’ direction on big issues like health care and climate change, as well as others like labor and corporate responsibility.
Biden’s already moved toward Sanders on making college free, and toward former rival Elizabeth Warren on bankruptcy reform.
The trick will be to figure out how much Biden can credibly give him so Sanders can satisfy his supporters that he had an impact before giving Biden his endorsement.
The two men spoke Wednesday by phone, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
On the surface, you can sort of understand the reasoning behind these negotiations. Despite the fact that Sanders was anything but gracious toward Biden when announcing that he was suspending his campaign, Uncle Joe doesn’t want to look like he’s kicking Sanders when he’s down. And his concerns over the possibility that the Bernie Bros might stay home in droves can’t be entirely dismissed. With those things in mind, a bit of diplomacy to salve Sanders’ ego wouldn’t be entirely amiss.
But at the same time, Biden wound up being the winner (barring some cataclysmic upheaval) and he needs to start acting like one, though politely. The old saying about to the winner go the spoils exists for a reason. For better or worse, Joe Biden won over enough of the Democratic base to drive the rest of the challengers from the field and it has to be his agenda that gets carried forward.
Even worse for Biden is the fact that Sanders and Warren already drove him way too far to the left during the primary. In a race to try to attract their part of the base, Joe is already on the record endorsing some of the worst impulses of the socialist left. Those nuggets will be hurled back in his face by Team Trump all through the general election. Joe dove off the deep end on issues ranging from health care to energy policy, “free stuff” and more. If anything, he needs to be starting the process of walking back some of those promises and adopting a more centrist stance before he scares off all the moderates and independent voters.
The things Bernie is angling for will do the opposite if Biden goes along with him. He’ll be edging dangerously close to endorsing the Green New Deal and a health care reform package that will undermine our system of employer-provided health insurance. He’s already essentially promised to eliminate tens of thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania by banning all fracking. But Sanders wants to push him even further.
And what will it change in November anyway? Yes, the Sanders’ supporters were angry in 2016 because they justifiably felt like the DNC had robbed them. But now the battlefield looks considerably different. Any of the people so slavishly dedicated to Bernie that they’re inconsolable aren’t going to show up for Biden no matter what he promises. The rest are going to say that defeating Donald Trump is their real priority and pull the lever for Biden, even if they’re not terribly enthusiastic about it.
I’m not sure who is advising Joe Biden these days, but they should pull him aside for a quiet chat. (Assuming he remembers what they talked about the next day.) This is no time to be begging for scraps at Bernie Sanders’ table. And if he does, he’ll basically be making life easier for Donald Trump on a daily basis. In that regard, I’m obviously all in favor of these truce talks, but in abstract political terms, Biden’s current trajectory is kind of painful to watch.