Since winning the primaries over his main challenger, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden has received plenty of criticism from the progressive wing of the party, which generally sees itself as being to the left of Biden politically.
Much of this criticism stems from Biden’s status as a veteran of the political establishment, with critics arguing that his willingness to work with conservatives is antithetical to progressive causes.
Others are wary of Biden’s record, particularly his initial support for the Iraq War and his past positions on criminal justice, and are concerned over recent allegations that Biden sexually assaulted a female staffer in 1993.
Although he ended up winning the Democratic primaries, candidates perceived to be more progressive than Biden still have strong bases of support, no one more so than Sanders, a self-styled democratic socialist, who rallied millions of voters to the progressive cause.
As the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Biden is making attempts to bring these more progressive voters into the fold, or to at least convince them that he deserves their vote.
So far, the Biden campaign has seemed to acknowledge that the progressive left will be a necessary demographic to win over if the party hopes to retake the White House in November. Meanwhile, for progressives, despite considerable pushback on Biden from some, the mutual goal of defeating Donald Trump appears to take precedence for many.
In an appeal to Sanders voters after winning primaries in Illinois and Florida in late March, Biden extended an olive branch to voters who might view him with skepticism, alluding to the need to form a united front against President Trump.
“Senator Sanders and I may disagree on tactics, but we share a common vision,” he said. “Let me say, especially to the young voters who have been inspired by Senator Sanders: I hear you. I know what’s at stake, I know what we have to do. Our goal as a campaign and my goal as a candidate for president is to unify this party and then to unify the nation.”
As the now-presumptive Democratic nominee, several notable progressive groups have officially endorsed Biden. In late May, a prominent liberal organization called Indivisible – a group aiming to “resist the Trump agenda” – officially endorsed Biden, with its co-founder Ezra Levin characterizing him as “Abraham Lincoln compared to Donald Trump.”
Other prominent progressives, like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have been more cautious. Ocasio-Cortez has committed to working with Biden to address climate change, but has thus far been unwilling to publicly endorse him, despite declaring that she would vote for him.
While Bernie Sanders promptly endorsed Biden in April after he was compelled to drop out of the race following a string of primary losses, not all of his supporters are on board.
According to a poll from USA Today/Suffolk in late April, about a quarter of Sanders voters polled were undecided or unwilling to vote for Biden.
On May 17, Sanders told ABC News that “at the end of the day, the vast majority of the people who voted for me … will be voting for Joe Biden.”
Sanders also suggested, however, that Biden will need to make stronger attempts to court some of his more ardent supporters.
“But I think what Joe is gonna have to do … is to say to those working class people, say to those young people, say to those minorities, listen, I understand your situation.”
While it’s uncertain how perceptions among Sanders voters might change as the election draws closer, a minority among the progressive left are adamant that Biden won’t be their candidate.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s emergence as the Republican nominee in 2016, some conservatives tried to start a movement within the party called “Never Trump.” Some on the left are now attempting to do the same with Biden.
“‘Kids in cages’ seems to have been a bipartisan effort. #NeverBiden,” tweeted Anthony Zenkus, a professor at Columbia and Adelphi universities in New York, in reference to a 2014 press release from the American Civil Liberties Union on a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s policy of detaining asylum-seeking mothers and their children after they illegally cross the border.
Biden was President Obama’s vice president during his time in office.
Referendum on Trump?
According to the majority of recent polls, Biden has a significant lead over Trump in several important battleground states. But despite his momentum, some critics are worried that Biden’s campaign isn’t visible enough, perhaps in the belief that Trump will bring himself down, especially over his divisive handling of the coronavirus crisis.
According to Michelle Cottle, a member of The New York Times editorial board, that could be a good strategy for now, with Trump’s disapproval ratings rising. But Cottle argues that Biden should also be laying the groundwork for a more aggressive campaign as the election draws closer.
“The campaign could stand to get looser and more creative, upping its social media game in particular,” Cottle argued. “Having essentially secured the nomination, Mr. Biden should move to mine the talent and ideas of former rivals. Now is the time to try out new tricks, while most of the electorate is focused on more pressing matters.”
“Much can happen in six months,” she added.
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