At long last, Joe Biden is now the presumptive Democratic nominee. Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign Wednesday, ending what has turned out to be one of the strangest and most unpredictable presidential primary contests in modern history—one that essentially ground to a halt in mid-March because of the coronavirus.
Still, make no mistake: Sanders might have lost the battle for the Democratic nomination to Biden, but he won the war for the future of the Democratic Party. Since his insurgent challenge to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and especially over the past year of campaigning, Sanders and his allies on the left have transformed the Democratic Party almost beyond recognition from what it was when Biden last served in elected office as Barack Obama’s vice president.
There’s no better evidence of this transformation than Biden himself. Once considered a moderate, Biden has gradually embraced almost every aspect of Sanders’s left-wing populist agenda—a $15-an-hour minimum wage, free college, tax hikes for the rich, and more power to workers. Just about the only Sanders idea he hasn’t endorsed is Medicare for All, but that one might well be around the corner.
Perhaps most telling was Biden’s embrace of the Green New Deal last summer, an obvious sop to the sensibilities of Sanders surrogates like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, who have made it pretty clear that the Green New Deal isn’t really about climate change but re-ordering the economy along socialist lines.
Biden has pitched himself as a return to normalcy, as if 2016 and Trump had never happened, and we can just go back to those halcyon days of Obama, when all was good and right in Washington.
But eliminating the use of fossil fuels is not a return to normalcy. In fact, Biden supports a slew of policies that Obama never did—policies that bear the indelible mark of Sanders-style socialism. On health care, Biden has endorsed a public option for Obamacare and taxpayer-funded health-care for illegal immigrants. Speaking of immigration, Biden supports a sharp increase in refugee admissions and citizenship for all illegal immigrants. The truth is that a Biden presidency would be anything but normal. At this point, it’s not too much to say that Biden will be the farthest-left Democrat ever nominated for president.
This Is Not The Joe Biden From Times Past
It’s hard to understand the outsized influence of Sanders on the Democratic Party, and on Biden, without looking at Biden’s outrageous flip-flopping. Facing a younger and more leftist field of primary challengers, Biden took stock of his political record and decided to chuck most of it out the window.
About a month after launching his campaign last April, Biden changed his mind about federal funding for abortion. For three decades, as both a U.S. senator and vice president, he had opposed repealing the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortions. But all it took was a phone call from Alyssa Milano and a stern talking-to from some woke campaign aides, and Biden caved.
He came around just in time. As Sanders made clear in February, there’s no room in the Democratic Party for pro-lifers—or anyone, apparently, who opposes taxpayer-funded abortions.
Biden’s got a habit of this. Take his views on China. Biden has long held soft views on China and encouraged closer ties with the communist state. As recently as last May, he scoffed at the idea that the United States should worry about China as a competitor. “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” he said at a campaign rally in Iowa. “China’s not our competitor.”
Fast forward a month, and Biden declares China a major threat. “We are in a competition with China. We need to get tough with China,” he said. “They are a serious challenge to us, and in some areas a real threat.” No surprise, he added that, “every single step that Donald Trump is taking is only exacerbating the challenge.”
Over at Vox, Matt Yglesias writes that “while Sanders himself will most likely support the ticket, if Biden loses, it will be seen as a semi-vindication of Sanders’s ideas about politics, and if he wins it will be a refutation of them.”
This analysis might sounds straightforward enough, but it badly underestimates how much Sanders’s leftist ideas have already been absorbed into the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party at large. At this point, defeating Biden means defeating those ideas, and by extension discrediting the leftward march of the Democratic Party—a march led not by Biden, but Sanders.