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Joe Biden has a big problem. He can’t get elected without the support of far-left Bernie Sanders supporters, but to do that, he has to propose radical policies that will cost him the votes of almost everyone else.
His answer so far has been to propose elements of the Sanders agenda without falling off a cliff and out of sight of the mainstream. He has embraced Elizabeth Warren’s radical bankruptcy reform ideas and has now proposed expanding Medicare coverage for those 60 and over as well as forgiving the college loan debt of millions.
It’s a far cry from Medicare for All and the total elimination of student debt — and Sanders supporters aren’t rising to take the bait. Biden doesn’t speak the language of revolution, nor does he have the fire of commitment that so many Sanders acolytes say is what attracted them to the socialist’s campaign in the first place.
They sound unconvinced.
“We can try all we want to use our leverage as a movement but, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t expect anything coming from the establishment, the Biden campaign or the Democratic National Committee as a way to bring in the base,” said Nomiki Konst, a Sanders surrogate who worked on party reforms on his behalf. “I think they want power — and I think they want money.”
Spoken like a true socialist revolutionary who, by the way, wouldn’t mind one bit if power and money came his way.
But Biden may not be finished transforming into more of what the far left wants.
RoseAnn Demoro, a close friend of Sanders and former head of the National Nurses United union, predicted Biden would make concessions on tuition-free college, labor and the environment, but not go as far as she and other activists wanted on health care. That leaves her unsure whether Sanders’ supporters can be moved.
“The calculation is, this base has nowhere to go but Biden because of Trump,” she said. “But if history teaches anything, a lot of the base sat it out last time.”
Biden will have to thread the needle, going only so far and no farther. But radicals are usually “all or nothing” voters and adopting some of the Sanders agenda probably won’t satisfy most of them.
Biden’s colorless personality isn’t garnering much enthusiasm — even among his supporters. This will make it harder for the Democrat to get people to the polls.
Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, which backed Warren before shifting its support to Sanders when she dropped out, said Biden’s goal is to rebuild the Obama coalition, which spanned generations, races and education levels. But he said Biden won’t be able to do that without attracting the support of “young people committed to real, progressive change” who were most enthusiastic about Sanders.
“The question is, will Joe Biden increase voter turnout, be able [to] achieve significant levels of voter enthusiasm, be able to achieve significant levels of individual volunteerism and small dollar donations and the type of enthusiastic voter to voter communication,” Mitchell said. “That is a political question that Joe Biden has to answer, and it can’t be done simply through rhetorical flourishes.”
“’Vote blue no matter what’ is absolutely not a winning electoral strategy,” said one radical Democrat. But in the end, it’s all Biden might have to convince Sanders supporters to back him.