Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders
Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders

Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont has for­mal­ly endorsed for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden, less than a week after with­draw­ing from the race for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. On Mon­day, both men appeared to their sup­port­ers via live stream on split screens and had a friend­ly dis­cus­sion of the upcom­ing gen­er­al elec­tion and pol­i­cy issues.

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, such an endorse­ment would have been announced at a cam­paign ral­ly or sim­i­lar large event, but COVID-19 has had the effect of con­fin­ing polit­i­cal can­di­dates to their homes, only able to com­mu­ni­cate via the internet.

Sen­a­tor Sanders made it very clear that he would be cam­paign­ing for Biden in the com­ing months: “We need you in the White House and I will do all I can to make that hap­pen.” Biden in turn said, “I’m going to need you, not just to win the cam­paign but to gov­ern.” They com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing “task forces” to build the Democ­rats’ pol­i­cy plat­form going into the Novem­ber election.

Such state­ments showed that both men were keen­ly aware of the pow­er­ful coali­tion that Sanders com­mands. Sanders’ sup­port­ers are young, pro­gres­sive and high­ly diverse, and are on the whole deeply skep­ti­cal of the Vice President.

Sanders’ promise to cam­paign for Biden (as he did for Hillary Clin­ton in late 2016) may per­suade many unen­thu­si­as­tic pro­gres­sives, and Biden’s state­ment that he will need Sanders “to gov­ern” is doubt­less intend­ed to sig­nal a turn towards more pro­gres­sive poli­cies once in the White House.

Biden’s out­reach to Sanders sup­port­ers start­ed a day after the Sen­a­tor dropped out, with com­mit­ments to reduce the Medicare eli­gi­bil­i­ty age by five years and expand stu­dent debt for­give­ness (although many pro­gres­sives were far from impressed by the lim­it­ed nature of such promises).

The Vice Pres­i­dent has also promised to nom­i­nate a female vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, rec­og­niz­ing a need for diver­si­ty in the White House. Although there is lit­tle evi­dence that con­test­ed pri­maries hurt can­di­dates in the gen­er­al elec­tion, there is lit­tle doubt that Joe Biden’s team are breath­ing a col­lec­tive sigh of relief.

The for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent did not per­form well in the two ear­ly states. He improved his show­ing in Neva­da, but did not win the state.

Biden’s turn­ing point came in South Car­oli­na, where he won a his­toric vic­to­ry that set in motion in an extreme­ly for­tu­itous series of events: Biden’s most ide­o­log­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar rivals dropped out en masse, while Eliz­a­beth War­ren con­tin­ued to com­pete for pro­gres­sive sup­port with Sanders until after Super Tuesday.

Biden sub­se­quent­ly received received a flood of endorse­ments from impor­tant fig­ures in the par­ty. Final­ly, COVID-19 put an end to the mass events and grass­roots orga­niz­ing that are Sanders’ chief form of campaigning.

Sanders’ 2020 endorse­ment for Biden comes much ear­li­er than his 2016 endorse­ment of Hillary Clin­ton. Four years ago, Sanders vied with the for­mer Sec­re­tary of State almost all the way to the con­ven­tion, and only endorsed his rival in mid-July (although he then cam­paigned for Clin­ton determinedly).

Sanders’ endorse­ment of Biden in April shows how much has changed in the past four years. Back in 2016, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Trump win­ning seemed incon­ceiv­able to many, but in 2020 most vot­ers believe (at least at this junc­ture) that Don­ald Trump will be re-elec­t­ed. Nei­ther Sanders nor Biden want to take any chances.

With the pri­ma­ry defin­i­tive­ly over, the gen­er­al elec­tion in Novem­ber looms before Joe Biden and the Democ­rats. More than any oth­er year, this is an elec­tion of unknowns: Will the vot­ers reject Trump? Will they accept Biden? How will COVID-19 affect the cam­paign and vot­er par­tic­i­pa­tion? If Trump does lose, will he even admit defeat? Will he even hand over pow­er peacefully?

Joe Biden has an enor­mous task on his hands, but his bur­den may well be light­ened by the sup­port of Bernie Sanders’ camp in the com­ing months.

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