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.