Why Joe Biden is winning the Democratic Primary
With the results coming in tonight, it is all but certain that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for president. While I supported a different candidate in this primary and am still grieving her candidacy, I will commit to voting for, working for, and donating to Joe Biden (or Bernie Sanders if fortunes change) to be the next president of the United States. I am a loyal Democratic voter with progressive, Democratic values, but beyond that, I am a patriotic American. For the past three years, the man occupying the Oval Office has betrayed our allies, broken democratic norms, promoted white nationalism, violated human rights, and rolled back the clock on civil rights and social equality. His bigotry, his corruption, and his criminal activities would each be enough to make him an existential threat on their own, but we also face an apocalyptic climate crisis that demands a government functioning at full capacity to transition as rapidly as possible to 100% clean and renewable energy. Defeating him is paramount above all else, and I urge everyone reading this to do what they can to help make that happen.
While we move closer to the Democratic nomination and the all-but-inevitable nomination of Joe Biden, I want to take a moment to reflect on how in what began as one of the most diverse field of candidates, we ended up here. You cannot tell the story of the 2020 primary without understanding the pain and the horror so many people, especially women, felt seeing the hopes of electing the first woman president in Hillary Clinton. The stark reality that a man who embodies the patriarchy and the culture of misogyny defeated Hillary Clinton even as she got more votes was gutting. Voters have had over three years to assess what went wrong in 2020, and the pundits and cable news anchors certainly had their narratives. Refrains you could hear frequently on CNN, MSNBC, and ABC largely revolved around the idea that Hillary Clinton focused too much on ‘identity politics’ and wasn’t speaking to the ‘white, working class.’ Democrats desperately wanted to know what went wrong so that they could defeat Trump and 2020. The media helped voters create an image of a candidate that could win, and that candidate looked like a white, moderate, male candidate. Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren (❤), and Amy Klobuchar didn’t have much of a chance. Democratic voters who wanted to see a woman elected president were too scared that this country wasn’t ready for a woman. I profoundly disagree, but there weren’t enough voices like mine shaping the narrative. Democratic voters went for the safe choice.
What about Bernie Sanders? In 2016, Bernie won 43% of the primary vote against a candidate that before she ran was well-liked within the party and had universal name recognition. While he didn’t win, his race allowed him to grow his brand and create campaign-like apparatuses to move the party towards his vision. He created Our Revolution and Justice Democrats to primary Moderate Democrats in safe seats with Progressive Democrats. He cultivated a massive e-mail list allowing him to retain his relationship with his many grassroots donors. When he decided to enter the race, Bernie thought that he would be able to inspire greater turnout among young people and progressives due to the anger at the Trump Administration, the impending climate crisis, and the growing recognition of an economy rigged in favor of the wealthy and big corporations. It’s becoming clear that while millions of voters believe in Bernie’s policies (Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, Free College), he hasn’t been able to expand his base. The numbers clearly show it has shrunk and youth voter turnout is down in most states. His brand of being an outsider, a registered Independent, the guy running against the Democratic establishment has been incredibly popular with about a third of the Democratic electorate. The other two-thirds may agree with him on some of his policies, but generally support the Democratic Party brand and establishment figures. Peter Beinart, an Atlantic columnist sympathetic to Bernie Sanders’ candidacy, wrote “In 2016, rank-and-file Republicans were ready to overthrow the establishment. Biden’s Super Tuesday voters felt otherwise.” Bernie Sanders successfully pushed the Democratic Party to the left on a number of issues aided by several issue-based movements (Sunrise Movement, Black Lives Matter, March For Our Lives, etc.). While his policies have gained in popularity, the Bernie brand has declined in popularity. A big part of that is the toxic nature of a portion of his supporters. Zack Beauchamp writes for Vox “The behavior in question ranges from angry Sanders fans tweeting snake emojis at Warren accusing her of being an anti-Sanders backstabber to online harassment of (generally female) Warren supporters. There have also been accusations that possible Sanders supporters published the home addresses and phone numbers of two women who worked for the Nevada Culinary Union after it produced a fact sheet critical of Sanders’s health care plan.” The article goes on to describe the performative meanness as a strategy deployed by self-declared members of the “dirtbag-left.” The behavior produced by this movement alienated a lot of voters to Bernie’s campaign and whether the words “Not Me, Us,” rang hollow.
Progressives have shifted the Overton Window on a number of issues making the most Moderate candidate in field (Joe Biden) run on a platform to the left of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We can build on what we have accomplished and continue to demand that the Democratic Party embrace the bold, progressive policies we believe in. There was a moment when progressives could have won the nomination. In October when Bernie had a heart attack, Elizabeth Warren was the front-runner in the polls. She was running on a nearly identical platform but with actual plans on how to follow through with all of them and a campaign that didn’t alienate rank-and-file Democratic voters. If Bernie Sanders would have recognized the baggage he brought to the table, dropped out, and endorsed Elizabeth Warren, I believe we could have built the kind of broad-coalition that could have overwhelmed the media narratives and voters fears and would have brought together young and old Democrats and won. We cannot change the past, but we should learn from it. The progressive movement is strong, but it has a lot of room to grow. Let’s learn from this, reflect on how we bring rank-and-file Democrats to our side, and work to make sure the Democratic platform is as progressive as possible.