With Wednesday’s announcement that Sen. Bernie Sanders is suspending his presidential campaign, the last obstacle has been removed between former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic nomination. But the challenges Biden faces remain formidable, in large part because Sanders signaled his intention to keep fighting for delegates and bend the Democratic platform to his will. If the goal is to defeat President Donald Trump, Sanders and his supporters must restructure their priorities for the good of the party.
Sanders’ speech Wednesday was eloquent and forceful, highlighting most of the issues, programs and ideas that won him widespread popularity. Of particular note was his campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 across the country and to promote single-payer health insurance. Without question, the constant drumbeat by Sanders has awakened Americans to the nation’s gross economic disparities and lack of attention to basic needs. The coronavirus health care crisis has only served to sharpen the focus on issues Sanders has long campaigned on.
But for Biden to advance any of the Sanders movement’s goals, he first must win the Nov. 3 election. Sanders stated Wednesday that Trump’s defeat is the goal, but he was, at best, tepid in his support for Biden. Even if Sanders and his supporters enthusiastically backed Biden, the former vice president would still need to attract a sizable portion of Republicans who abhor Trump but abhor Sanders’ democratic socialism even more. These swing voters swung to Trump’s side in 2016, delivering him just enough of an edge to win the Electoral College even though Trump still lost the popular vote.
The Democrats cannot afford to repeat that costly mistake in November. Which means Sanders’ supporters must not demand a full-force Biden embrace of democratic socialism in order to win their votes. Besides, attractive as Sanders’ ideas might have been, he never offered a viable plan to pay for them. Covering that prospective expense, on top of the trillions of dollars in new debt from the coronavirus response, would push the United States to the brink of insolvency.
On top of Biden’s challenges from the far left, he now is limited to campaigning virtually on the internet while Trump gets to seize television coverage for an hour or more every day under the guise of managing the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Luckily for Biden, Trump is making a mess of it by parading his most narcissistic and petty traits for all Americans to see.
Nevertheless, Trump’s constant face time in American living rooms helps distract voters from anything Biden has to say. The imperative now is for Biden to maintain a disciplined, focused and articulate message — preferably with Sanders enthusiastically backing him rather than continuing to compete from behind the scenes.