On 3 March, US President Donald Trump commented on the primary elections of the Democratic Party, saying: “They will be rigged against Bernie Sanders. That’s for sure”.
It is understandable that Trump wants Sanders to be his opponent in the US presidential race in November, because the outcome would be in Trump’s favour. Trump is indirectly inciting against Joe Biden because he is an opponent more capable of defeating him in the elections. Biden has gained ground since Super Tuesday on 3 March as Sanders’ agenda is troubling a substantial sector of traditional Democratic voters, raising concern among party leaders about the large base of young Democrats who support Sanders whether or not he has a chance to defeat Trump, focused on his captivating ideas and slogans that are more socialist than liberal and popular among this age group.
At the beginning of his campaign, Biden’s performance was mediocre but was revived on Super Tuesday. His growing success will be a serious challenge to Trump who might find it difficult to run against Biden in the final race to the White House. Biden’s campaign frames him as a moderate or centrist Democrat who is nothing like Sanders. The latter is alarming to the middle and upper classes because he calls for higher taxes on middle and high-income groups, promises free healthcare for all without revealing how this will be funded, sympathises with proponents of limiting gun laws, and supports lenient policies towards illegal immigrants to the US.
Before this week’s primaries on Tuesday, 10 March, in Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington, North Dakota and Michigan, many observers believed the results in Michigan will largely decide who will be the Democratic candidate running against Trump. They reference Sanders’ win in Michigan during the primary race against Hilary Clinton in 2016 which enabled him to continue battling with Clinton until the end. Therefore, if Sanders loses Michigan this time he may be forced to withdraw from the race.
But this view is mistaken for two reasons. First, it ignores Sanders’ personality, which refuses to surrender in the face of challenges or defeats. Second, his Democratic supporters are not willing to leave the arena wide open for Biden because they believe his views are too conservative and oppose their own quasi-socialist ideas.
Biden’s position before Tuesday’s primaries was strong compared to Sanders both in terms of results and the cohesion of his camp after three rival candidates announced their withdrawal from the race and endorsed Biden; namely, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren, who is also from the left wing of the Democratic Party and withdrew from the race, did not ask her followers to switch their support to Sanders. Perhaps she is waiting to see whether Sanders will be able to continue or not.
In the end, this certainly weakens Sanders in the face of Biden. Biden insists that the final candidate for president must have a majority of delegate votes (of 1991 delegates) at the Democratic National Convention in July. Sanders, meanwhile, seemed on shaky ground when he demanded that the final candidate should have the most votes, not an absolute majority of delegates. This made him look like he is certain he will not win a majority of votes under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, there is intense debate inside the Democratic Party and on the street about who the party should pick as its candidate to run against Trump. A segment of voters inside and outside the party believe it must choose a strong candidate, irrespective of their principles or electoral platform. This is known as a candidate’s “electability”, which is the approach recently adopted by some voters within the party in favour of Biden, because they believe he is more capable of defeating Trump than Sanders is. They will not vote for Sanders, even though some of his ideas and platform are attractive to them, because they do not see him as a strong contender against Trump. One Democrat commented: “If we have a nominee to stand up against Trump who says we need a socialist revolution, then we’re going to lose.”
Worse still, some voters who want to choose a candidate who can defeat Trump say they will not vote for Sanders even if he makes it on the ballot for president.
Trump’s tweets indicate he is not worried about facing off with Sanders, and is in fact trying hard either to eliminate or sabotage Biden. Trump is not only trying to sow division among Democrats by claiming they will rig the primaries in favour of Biden against Sanders, but is constantly talking about the alleged corruption of Biden and his son Hunter, whom Trump accuses of suspicious relations with Ukraine when the younger Biden was a member of the board of a gas company there while his father was vice president to Barack Obama between 2009-2017.
Trump’s supporters argue that the problem is not Sanders’ socialist outlook, but that the Democratic Party has swerved to the left over the past two decades, as stated in an article by Frank Bruni in The New York Times, titled “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won the Democratic Primary”. Bruni tried to prove there is no difference between Sanders and Biden in terms of their socio-economic agendas.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly