Photo: Politico

Politico reported this morning that Joe Biden’s campaign’s presidential primary strategy is resting on one key notion: Twitter isn’t real life, and therefore lefty politics are not real and I do not have to worry about them.

According to Politico, Biden’s campaign is betting that “the Democratic base isn’t nearly as liberal or youthful as everyone thinks,” and that moderates are the ticket. The story notes that Biden has avoided endorsing things that are actually good, like Medicare for All.

On a related note, the Intercept reported last week that Biden pushed to keep contraception coverage out of the Affordable Care Act because “it would have angered white, male, Catholic voters, and threatened Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012.” This is not a man who has a good understanding of how electorates work—you think there are any white, male Catholics out there who care enough about contraception that they would switch to the Republicans if the ACA covered it, but would otherwise be OK with the Abortion Party?

This politics is defined entirely by imagined political enemies. Don’t ever try to change anyone’s mind, just try to find middle ground between yourself and the median Republican voter and emphasize it. And while Biden is happy to continue eking out victories for Democrats on this shaky coalition of old people who aren’t quite as racist as Trump supporters, middle and high-income suburban moms, and guys from Pennsylvania who are also named Joe, it won’t last forever.

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Biden’s conception of the Democratic electorate—old, moderate, very much not excited by Medicare for All—sounds like it’s straight out of a report from Third Way, the awful centrist think tank funded by lobbyists and Republicans that exists to tell Democrats not to be too lefty. This is what Third Way said after the 2018 midterms, which they described as“a mainstream and moderate Democratic wave election,” in a post about the Democrats’ coalition that election:

  • “The Democratic coalition wants a uniter, not a divider, in 2020.”
  • “Voters recognized that the pragmatic progressive Democrats running in their districts fit their communities and rewarded them with their votes accordingly.”
  • “And 70% of Democrats and Independents said they want the Democratic Party to appeal to a broad range of voters, including those who voted for Trump in 2016, in order to win future elections. Just 17% said Democrats should try to win future elections by moving left to generate enthusiasm and increase participation among progressives and liberals.”

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This is not a recipe for a lasting coalition. It is stitched together and powered by Trump, who will, one day, no longer be the president. You can’t run against him forever. Where do your precious moderates go when the Republicans nominate someone who doesn’t saying the quiet part so loudly?

Biden’s team might be right that the Democratic primary electorate is older and more moderate, though that’s a separate question from what policies should be pursued to make America better. But in terms of cases where voters have been offered candidates who are genuinely different—not just further left, but who represent an actual break from the alienating, stultifying corporate Democratic politics that has dominated my entire lifetime—it’s an extremely small sample size. On a national level, the only candidates who’ve come close to that are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to a lesser extent. Everything else is the same old poll-tested, donor-approved bullshit.

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The Democrats have two choices before them. First, they can keep getting through by the skin of their teeth in a politics that is defined by the Republican Party’s idea of what the limits of debate should be. They can keep bowing their head and trying to win with the Better Things Aren’t Possible campaign with a coalition of people who would have been Republicans 20 years ago, and people whose lives are so threatened by Republican politics that they have no choice but to vote for Democrats.

Or, they can try a new politics that actually excites people who have been driven away from politics by a lifetime of candidates who only talk about tax-advantaged savings accounts, as well as the people who stayed home last time because they weren’t offered much by a candidate who derided people who wanted a better healthcare system as whiny kids asking for a pony.

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The electorate is getting less Boomer, less white, and less interested in establishment politics. Biden might be able to make it work—but he might be the last candidate who can.