One of Joe Biden’s strongest political assets turns 87 this week, and has survived numerous health scares. Her name is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she’s been a liberal stalwart on the Supreme Court for more than 26 years, and whoever wins in November will almost certainly get to name her successor.
After Biden’s decisive primary victories on Tuesday, he is close to clinching the Democratic nomination. But a critical question remains: Will Bernie Sanders and his most loyal supporters accept that outcome and enthusiastically support the party’s choice?
Many Berniecrats refused to do that four years ago. Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton was too late and too languid, and he sent a message to his troops that she was a tainted candidate not worth backing with any fervor. As a result, 1 in 5 Sanders voters did not support Clinton, and provided Trump’s margin of victory in the three states that decided the election: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Trump has repeatedly demonstrated how misguided those Berniecrats really were, and his most indelible impact has been on the federal judiciary. He’s already named almost 200 new judges, including two Supreme Court justices. If given a second term, he could alter the shape of American law — and life — for generations.
In recent campaign appearances, Sanders has appealed directly to women and the LGBTQ community, emphasizing issues like reproductive choice and gay marriage. He’s justified in arguing that many basic rights are in jeopardy, but the threat does not come from Joe Biden; it comes from Donald Trump.
If Sanders truly cares about preserving and protecting those rights, he’ll correct the grievous error he made in 2016 and rally his team around Biden this fall — particularly focusing on the impressionable young voters who continued to “feel the Bern” even while the rest of his campaign was collapsing.
That’s a big “if.” Sanders is a democratic socialist with no real loyalty to the Democratic Party. As a self-proclaimed revolutionary, his whole approach to politics has been based on the principle that no bread is better than half a loaf.
His campaign slogan tells it all: “Which side are you on?” He doesn’t mean Democrats versus Republicans; he means purists versus pragmatists. He means Sanders versus Biden — and all the heretics and sellouts that think, with good reason, that Bernie would lead the party to disaster.
At least Sanders sprinkles his tirades with mollifying comments like, “Joe Biden is a friend of mine.” His supporters can be far more vicious.
As Vanity Fair reports, some Berniecrats are whispering the word “senile” about Biden and Cenk Uygur, host of the YouTube program “The Young Turks,” said, “We’re about to walk off a cliff if we let Joe Biden be the nominee.”
Uygur has it exactly wrong. Sanders supporters will “walk off a cliff” if they repeat 2016 by deciding Biden is not pristine enough to merit their support against Trump.
Biden is far from a perfect nominee. He’s not been reborn as an articulate, energetic, charismatic candidate. His drive toward the nomination is fueled mainly by fear: fear of Trump, and fear of Sanders. But that fear is real and powerful, and recently Biden’s discovered two campaign themes that show promise.
One theme, he voiced on Super Tuesday: “For those who have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign.” At 77, he’s not exactly the Comeback Kid, as Bill Clinton dubbed himself in 1992, but he taps into an elemental theme in American politics: the hero who overcomes adversity to triumph in the end.
His other theme is simply a return to decency, to normalcy, after the corrosive chaos of the Trump years. Amy Klobuchar captured that appeal when she said, “People are looking for someone who is a rock, who is a safe place.”
“A safe place” is hardly a compelling slogan, but it might fit the times. A recent Pew survey found that 83% of Americans either “don’t like” Trump’s “personal conduct” or have “mixed feelings” about his behavior. Only 15% fully approve of the way “he conducts himself as president.” And 4 out of 5 voters described the president as “self-centered,” while only about one-third deemed him “honest” or “morally upstanding.”
That’s the opening Democrats have against Trump: the president’s profound personal failings. But they can only capitalize on that opening if the party is united. If Sanders and his acolytes remember that the rights they care about are in deep danger. If they remember that Ruth Ginsberg just turned 87.