Democrats are downplaying the damage Bernie Sanders could inflict on 2020 presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Despite an increasingly narrow path to the nomination, Sanders refuses to drop out of White House contention amid the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 outbreak has pushed back a slew of primaries until June 2, delaying when Biden can clinch the 1,991 delegates needed to become the next Democratic standard-bearer outright.
Aside from drawing out the nominating process, the virus’s effect on public health and the economy fall within the Vermont senator’s policy wheelhouse. His second presidential bid, much like his first, has been rooted in calls for his signature legislative proposal, Medicare for All, and supporting working people over the “billionaire class.”
Yet, as Sanders tries to assert any remaining influence on the Democratic platform, some in the party are worried about how far he’ll go as Biden fails to generate stellar reviews for his own response to the novel respiratory illness. The same can be said for President Trump.
For Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell, the public and the media were “understandably” fixated on the spread of the disease.
“I think the Sanders camp is hoping for some sort of catastrophic misstep to occur, but I don’t see that happening. The bottom line is that the majority of Democratic voters voted for Joe Biden and, in many states, it was a landslide for Biden. Bernie actually underperformed in many states relative to 2016,” Dowdell told the Washington Examiner.
Dowdell added she was doubtful Democrats would even care if Biden made small mistakes because of the situation the country finds itself in.
“If I were Bernie, I would use this opportunity to try to take more of a leadership role in the Senate and use this moment to build relationships and gain support for my policies while people are open to greater government intervention. I think failing to do so is a missed opportunity for some important policies,” she said.
Fellow Democratic strategist Mike Lux agreed and said he believes Sanders wouldn’t “go scorched earth on Biden” given that “they are friends and allies in their shared goal of defeating Trump.”
“I don’t think Bernie staying in matters much one way or another. The campaign is on the trajectory that it is and isn’t likely to change,” he said.
Sanders, however, has been adapting his bid to the coronavirus political landscape.
Though he didn’t strike the right tone during his first one-on-one debate with Biden, he’s reaching out to potential voters digitally and via the phone in states such as New York, where Democrats don’t go to the polls until April 28. He’s hosted six COVID-19-related events, and his livestreams more generally have had in excess of 14 million views to date. Biden, in comparison, doesn’t have the same online following.
Although he caught flak for skipping a procedural vote on the $2 trillion virus economic stimulus package, Sanders rallied fans by threatening to “put a hold” on the relief measures unless Republicans abandoned their “anti-worker” objections. GOP senators opposed some of the unemployment insurance expansion provisions in case they deincentivized people from returning to work.
Sanders promoted the ultimatum on Twitter and in prime-time cable news interviews, including with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, drawing social media applause for a late-night, impassioned speech on the Senate floor.
“Oh my god. The universe is collapsing! Someone making $12 an hour now … might be making a few bucks more for four months,” he said in the chamber late Wednesday.
While the Trump campaign has already adopted a bare-knuckled approach to Biden, Sanders’s recalcitrance risks hurting the two-term vice president before the general election has even begun.
Sanders’s stubbornness was on display again Thursday when he told NPR more liberal Democrats were “winning the ideological debate.”
“I think, especially in this terrible crisis that we’re in, people understand that healthcare is a human right,” he said.
Sanders has amassed a war chest deep enough to finance a protracted nomination fight. In the meantime, he’s diverted fundraising resources to tap donors for charities helping those left reeling from the illness. His team has brought in more than $3.5 million for the cause since the end of last week alone.
He’s also suggested through staff that he wants to debate Biden one final time in April, though Delaware’s former 36-year senator insisted, “We’ve had enough debates,” and, “We should get on with this.”
Sanders won the Democrats Abroad primary this week, but Biden still has 1,174 pledged delegates to the senator’s 862.
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