Fiorella Beccaglia Managing Editor
Sen. Bernie Sanders wanted a political revolution. Former Vice President Joe Biden wants to beat President Donald Trump.
Biden’s vision has now won out— he is the apparent Democratic nominee after Sanders suspended his campaign April 7. His announcement, however, came weeks after Biden effectively clinched the nomination by cleaning up on Super Tuesday (March 3) and in several big-state primaries a week later.
In a live-streamed speech, Mr. Sanders, eloquent but without his characteristic enthusiasm, casted his decision in the broader context of the fight against the coronavirus. “I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour,” Mr. Sanders said, adding, “While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not.”
If Biden can now lay claim to the Democratic nomination, he still faces considerable challenges in uniting the party and mobilizing a broad base of voters for the November election. Unlike Sanders, Biden inspired little enthusiasm among young voters, nor did he develop signature policy proposals. He triumphed because many voters rejected Mr. Sanders’s policy agenda as too far to the left, and were convinced that Mr. Biden had the best chance to beat President Trump.
To motivate liberal Democrats who find him frustratingly conventional, Mr. Biden will most likely need to do far more to articulate an agenda on critical Democratic issues like health care and climate change.
In addition, Biden’s win isn’t exactly a sign of his astounding political skills. He formally ran for the nomination twice before, in 1988 and 2008, and failed both times. In his first run, Biden didn’t even make it to the 1988 primaries, dropping out in September 1987 amid plagiarism charges. In 2016, Biden finished fifth in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out the next day, having never really recovered after dismissing then-rival Sen. Barack Obama as “the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Thus, in 2020, Biden is only a viable candidate because he’s a former two-term vice president for a still-popular former president.
On a range of other issues, too—climate change, immigration, college affordability, tax policy—Biden’s agenda was more centrist and more popular among Democratic primary voters than Sanders’, while Sanders insisted that his vision represented a majority of the Democratic coalition.
That’s not to say Sanders didn’t have an effect on the politics of the race. Since becoming the increasingly apparent Democratic nominee, Biden has moved to the left on some issues, including speaking favorably of Warren’s bankruptcy plan. Recently Biden also backed a proposal by Sanders that would make tuition free at public colleges and universities for families with incomes under $125,000. Still, with the 2020 Democratic primary process essentially over, it’s clear that the hard-core Democratic left was deluded in their assertions that they were the new Democratic majority. They are going to need a better grip on reality if they are to be successful at the national level moving forward
Biden’s primary cycle victory, then, reflects his appeal among broad swaths of the Democratic base, the moderate-leaning nature of the broad Democratic electorate and voters’ single-minded focus on defeating Trump in November. This all points to what will likely be a tough but winnable campaign against Trump.