Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders on a sub-super Tuesday, winning Michigan and three other primaries out of the six held. The day after, in a scheduled statement to the media, Sanders offered his candid view of the contest. Many expected a concession speech or campaign defiance. Instead, Sanders announced that this Sunday’s debate ahead of the Arizona primary actually would be a midterm exam on Biden’s progressive credentials. Biden’s grade will have an impact on whether Bernie’s brigade will follow him.
Sanders’ body language and subdued tone suggest that he is ready to retreat as a candidate but not as an advocate. Sanders conceded he has lost the electability argument but insists, with justification, that Democratic voters favor the many points of the progressive agenda. He announced his plan to confront Biden at the debate with questions about what a President Biden would do about climate change, renewable energy, universal healthcare, income inequality, and an incarceration policy rife with profiteering and systematic racism. Sanders will be testing Biden on his willingness to carry Sanders’ causes into the general election.
By comparison, in 2016, Sanders fought hard to get his policy positions on the DNC platform. He and Clinton never had a rapprochement. For that reason and several others, many Sanders voters stayed home, a critical constituency failing Clinton against Trump. The Democrats’ 2016 political blunders helped throw the election to Trump.
Sanders’ ploy is not for himself. Sanders won’t serve in a Biden cabinet unless America establishes an embassy in Havana, and he’s unlikely to be a Biden confidante. If Biden performs well enough, Sanders will have a much easier time moving his supporters to get out the vote in 2020 instead of sitting out another one. Sanders all but said that he would defer to the more electable Biden if Biden embraces some of the ideas Sanders has addressed:
• Income inequality
• Universal healthcare
• Access to education
• A boost for the working class
• Support for the impoverished and homeless
Bernie is serving up meatballs. He wants Biden to pass; he gave him all the questions in advance. Biden is taking an open-book exam on a pass/fail basis. All he has to do is sign his name and fill in the blanks. Biden doesn’t need an Elizabeth Warren-type plan to pass the test. He needs a few bullet points on each issue. Taking a cue from Obama and the Oval Office’s current squatter, Biden can suggest a few measures a president can undertake by executive order on Day One and vouch for undoing a lot of what Trump has done without overpromising or relying on an uncertain Congress. He can offer administrative changes to manufacturing policy, healthcare regulation, and job training/retraining, without being drawn into legislative quicksand.
The only way Biden can fail this test is by not cramming. He can figure out a few anodyne responses, write them on his shirt cuff, and deliver them on cue. Sanders can claim a triumph for the movement, and Biden will declare himself presumptive nominee. This will free the Democratic machinery to grind on to the general election.