As the 2020 Presidential Election moves forward, developments have been dramatic. Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign and although his name will technically remain on the Democrat nomination ballot, Joe Biden has all but clinched the nomination, with Oddschecker reporting a 96 per cent chance of winning the nomination.
With Sanders’ bid coming to a premature end, many are now wondering what will happen to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and the progressive movement as a whole. A perfunctory observation would be to say that progressive voters will now rush to push Joe Biden into presidency, lest the Democrats risk a second term from incumbent Donald Trump. However, the issue is not so plain.
‘Vote blue no matter who’ is a slogan currently reverberating around social media, imploring progressives to rally behind Joe Biden. But perhaps the reluctance of some progressives is warranted. There is a justified fear that, by rallying behind Biden, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will gain reason to believe that, when push comes to shove and situation turns dire, outlier progressives will buckle under pressure and back a moderate candidate whose ideology they only scarcely identify with. It is a sneaky tactic; amplify and extrapolate the direness of a situation — in this case, preventing a second Trump term — to guarantee political cohesion. But why does this fear exist? Because it was used by Hillary Clinton only four years prior, and is still being used. Being retrospective on her failed campaign, Clinton has said that Sanders was to blame for not ‘unifying the party’. This belief has been a point of criticism from progressives, because this line of argument essentially boils down to ‘get in line, or be scapegoated’. What happened to the Democratic Party?
Besides, why would the DNC feel inclined to reform if it has evidence — 2016, mainly, and the rallying of dropped-out progressives like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren behind Biden — showing that progressives and their voters will ultimately succumb and still vote for whichever Democrat is propelled to the top of the nominations?
However, progressives haven’t totally conceded. As some argue, surely Joe Biden will have to implement at least a couple progressive policies to win the backing of more hardy progressives? Plus, a route for progressive implementation could potentially be Elizabeth Warren. As of the March Democrat debate, Biden committed himself to choosing a female vice-president, and now bookies and voters are scrambling to predict who Biden has his eye on. Oddschecker reported, as of April 22nd, that Warren’s odds have halved from 12/1 to 6/1. However, she is not the guaranteed choice, with other suggested names including Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, fellow moderates, but also, surprisingly, Michelle Obama. Warren herself, when asked by MSNBC, said she would agree to the vice presidency. If this prediction comes to fruition, progressives have at least one high-ranking candidate to rally behind without fully sacrificing their ideology.
The youth support of Bernie Sanders is not to be underestimated, best evident from social media. Typically, Twitter only acts as a microcosm that barely reflects the reality of the outside world, least of all voting (as Jeremy Corbyn discovered in 2019), but still it is indicative enough to serve a purpose: Sanders was very popular on Twitter, Biden not so much. This dissidence with the youths is one of many handicaps for Biden, whose voter base in Iowa only had 5 per cent of voters under the age of 45. But, on further analysis, will he actually need to implement those leftist policies, and would he even want to?
On the first point, Biden is generally leading in polls, perhaps resulting in him consolidating his existing voter base rather than trying to extend it to include progressives. As of April 22nd, The Economist and YouGov polled Biden at a +6 per cent lead over incumbent Trump, and IPSOS polled a similar lead at +8 per cent. On the 19th, NBC polled a +7 per cent lead. The lowest recent national poll, conducted by CNBC, still nonetheless projects a lead of +4 per cent. Though no one can say whether this will persist. Trump has received criticism on his handling of the current coronavirus crisis, and as American cases continue to climb, Biden might find himself pushed into a double-digit lead relatively soon.
Moreover, would Biden even want to align his campaign around progressives? Biden is staunchly opposed to single-payer health care systems, his proposed increase of corporate income tax (from 21 per cent to 28 per cent) is still lower than Obama-era taxes, in 2018. Speaking to LA Times, he was quoted as saying: ‘Give me a break. No, no, I don’t have any empathy for it’, in response to complaints of the ‘younger generation’. In both Iowa and Michigan, Biden was recorded chastising voters for echoing criticism about his son, and accusations of stripping citizens of their Second Amendment rights, respectively. Whilst not issues directly linked to progressives, these incidents have shown a harsher, less forgiving streak to Biden, a streak that makes it difficult to believe Biden will welcome his leftist critics with open arms. Plus, with these facts considered, were Biden to commit himself to unifying the party, he would no doubt be met with accusations of being disingenuous.
But progressives’ heartache isn’t fully over, as a historical trend has revealed. Since Bill Clinton, a two-term serving president is typically replaced by a two-term president of the opposing party; Clinton, Bush, Obama. Alright, that’s only three Presidents, so maybe Biden can be an outlier. Except, on top, only three presidents since 1933 have failed to be elected for a second term. The odds are already seemingly stacked against Biden, but let us entertain the idea of him bucking the trend. These trends would project him maintaining his momentum into a second term, taking us to 2028. Is 2028 the earliest America could see the revival of a progressive candidate?
Well, actually, no. Remember the admittedly narrow trend of a two-term president being succeeded by a president of the opposing party. At the earliest, were this hypothetical subsequent Republican president only to serve one term, it would be 2032 before, according to history, a progressive would have another shot at nomination. Can the progressive movement sustain itself for twelve years, and who would be its figurehead?
In quite the twist, a loss for the Democrats under Biden could be the biggest victory for progressives, because, as some are hoping, it might force the DNC to finally embrace the progressive wing of the party. Overall, very little is for certain for American voters at the moment, but the progressives might be justified in their worry of the longevity of their movement, and in an act of survival, they might find themselves relying on Elizabeth Warren to keep their ideology alive.