Progressives In The Democratic Party May Have Misread The Signals For 2020

Based on the early stages of the campaign for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, it appears as though the party's progressive wing has misread the signals being sent by the party's voters.

No matter where you turn, the news over the past several weeks about the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination has been dominated by former Vice-President Joe Biden. Since his long-anticipated entry into the race less than a month ago, he has dominated the news, seen his fundraising numbers rival those of his competitors, and, perhaps most importantly, seen his poll numbers skyrocket in polling at the national level, as well as in early primary states such as IowaNew Hampshire, and South Carolina. Much of this rise in the polls has come at the expense of his fellow challengers, of course, including not just his immediate challenger Senator Bernie Sanders but also other candidates to his left such as Elizabeth Warren, Kamala, Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Beto O Rourke, all of whom have seen their numbers drop in the wake of Biden’s entry into the race.4

It wasn’t necessarily supposed to be like this. Biden was leading in the polls even before he got into the race, of course, and there were many pundits and analysts who believed that he’d see those numbers drop after getting into the race. One of the reasons often cited for that assumption is the idea that the former Vice-President was out of step with the Democratic Party as it exists today. This Democratic Party, the theory had it, was to the left of candidates like Biden, who has more in common with Hillary Clinton and other national Democrats that came before her, are out of step with the new zeitgeist in the Democratic Party allegedly represented by people such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While it’s still early in the race, it’s beginning to appear as if this is not the case and that, as Sahil Kupar puts it, it is Biden who is testing the strength of the progressive wing of the party rather than the other way around:

Joe Biden’s growing lead in the Democratic presidential race is turning into a test of strength for a vocal and active progressive wing that’s been trying to wrest control of the party for the past four years.

The left’s ascent in the Democratic Party is embodied in the fervent followers of 2020 contender Bernie Sanders and young liberal stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman. They rejected the notion of compromising with Republicans and are attempting to make sweeping proposals like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal litmus-test issues, asserting that is what Democratic voters want.

Biden has promoted consensus-building and given a cold-shoulder to Medicare for All. Yet he’s leading his nearest rival, Sanders, by 20 to 32 points in five national polls taken since he began his campaign on April 25.

Terry Shumaker, a 71-year-old lawyer from Concord, New Hampshire, and longtime Biden supporter, has a theory why.

“Twitter Democrats are not representative of the Democratic Party,” Shumaker said. “Democrats have to nominate somebody who can go toe to toe with Trump, and he’s the guy.”

Still, Biden’s a long way from securing the nomination and — as Hillary Clinton learned in 2008 — early front-runner status isn’t a guarantee.

The 22-candidate Democratic field is packed with progressives who have signed on to Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal — most notably senators like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand. If Biden sustains his lead through next year’s primaries and caucuses, it’ll raise tough questions for progressive advocates about whether their far-reaching ideas are as important to the rest of the party.

“Lots of voters support Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. But lots of voters also support Joe Biden. So that’s the test: whether we can organize and persuade voters to choose a candidate who supports those issues,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the progressive activist group Justice Democrats. “I’m feeling pretty confident that as we have debate and start to talk about issues, we’re going to see things shift.”

The left’s strategy to weaken Biden is to highlight his record as an establishment-friendly Democrat who cast votes that are out of step with the party’s base today. Sanders has already begun to do that by ripping into Biden’s past support for Nafta and deregulating Wall Street. At a rally in Washington on Monday night that marked Sanders’ second appearance in less than a week with Ocasio-Cortez, she and other activists complained Biden was too timid on climate change.


Biden is “trying to thread the needle. He’s in a tough spot because you don’t want to turn anyone away, he’s more moderate but he needs to appeal to the more leftist ideas in the party,” said Liz Cannizzo, who traveled from Massachusetts to see Biden in Hampton, New Hampshire, on Monday. She said she was impressed by his empathy for voters and said he tops her list of Democrats for the 2020 primary.

“The people that are the loudest — that doesn’t reflect where the rest of the party is,” said Cannizzo, 38, adding that she — like plenty of Democrats — believes Biden may be the most electable candidate.


Apart from policy, the Democratic contest has become a battle of two visions — Biden’s pitch to returning to a time of civility and bipartisanship, and the ascendant left’s view that a progressive agenda can only be achieved through trench political warfare with the right.
Campaigning in New Hampshire this week, Biden predicted that Republicans will have an “epiphany” and work constructively with Democrats after the Trump years are over.

“The thing that will fundamentally change with Donald Trump out of the White House, not a joke, is you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” Biden told reporters at the Works Cafe in Concord. “If we can’t change it, we’re in trouble. This nation cannot function without generating consensus. It can’t do it.”

His remarks were swiftly pilloried by some progressives, who called Biden’s hopes for compromise with the GOP starry-eyed and naive.

“I would wager that not even most Biden supporters believe this is true. Or Biden staffers. Or Republicans!” former Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau, a co-host of Pod Save America, said Tuesday on Twitter.

Bill Scher makes a similar argument in a Politico Magazine article that asks whether the Democratic left has misread the 2020 Democratic primary:

It’s not just Biden’s rising poll numbers that suggest that the activist left is out of step with most Democrats; it’s the ideological makeup of the entire Democratic Party. Fifty-six percent of Democrats self-identify as “moderate” and 9 percent even embrace “conservative,” according to an April poll from the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. While leftist activists pine for the end of the legislative filibuster to grease the skids for partisan legislation, a December GW Politics poll found that 66 percent of Democrats said they prefer elected officials who “make compromises with people they disagree with” over those who “stick to their positions.” Only 36 percent of Republicans said the same.

It’s too early to declare this the year of anything, whether progressive change or centrist Bidenmania. But Biden’s commanding lead has left the party’s resurgent left with a question: What to do if it never stops beingBiden’s moment. Despite circulation of Biden’s 1970s opposition to school busing and Anita Hill’s rejection of his apology for his handling of the Clarence Thomas hearings, his appeal crosses nearly every demographic group, with the mild exception of voters under 35; he still leads with young voters, just not by as much as with other groups.

And Biden’s lead is at least in part because of his relative moderation and not in spite of it. Even voters who disagree with him seem to be drawn to his centrism. Polls from CNN and Monmouth University found that Democratic primary voters put the ability to defeat Trump ahead of ideological purity when picking a presidential nominee. It’s true that a recent poll from ABC and the Washington Post seemed to show the opposite result, with 47 percent of Democrats saying they preferred a candidate “whose positions on the issues come closest to yours” and only 39 percent said they favored one “most likely to defeat” Trump. But the cross tabulation showed that it was largely moderate and conservative Democrats who wanted an ideologically like-minded candidate, while liberal Democrats tilted toward the more electable candidate. Democrats in both ideological camps, it seems, are nervous about a nominee too far to the left.

Beyond the polling data, there were other indicators that the Democratic base wasn’t quite ready for the revolution. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi keeps throwing brushback pitches at Ocasio-Cortez and her allies without suffering any significant loss in popularity among Democrats. Despite all the attention around single-payer health care, there are fewer House Democrats co-sponsoring such legislation in this Congress than in the last Congress, even though there are more House Democrats, suggesting that many elected Democrats aren’t feeling pressure from their base to check the democratic-socialist box.


Five months ago, when Al Gore’s former running mate, Joe Lieberman, said he didn’t believe Rep. Ocasio-Cortez would be the future of the Democratic Party, she memorably shot back, “New party, who dis?” After the Biden surge, progressives should be less sure that they own the party.

So far, they are not ready to concede. They believe that Trump has given Democrats a hunger to dream big on policy and to exploit America’s polarization, not temper it. It’s indisputable that such a faction exists among Democratic primary voters. But if the left is wrong about its breadth, it will take more than a good clapback tweet for them to figure out what to do next.

Scher notes in the article that he had spoken with pundits and campaign advisers from the progressive wing of the party in the weeks since Biden entered the race and reports that, at least for now, they appear undetered and instead seem to be prepared to double down:

“There’s a lot of nostalgia for the Obama-Biden administration,” said Chamberlain, whose progressive outfit, Democracy for America, grew out of Howard Dean’s insurgent 2004 presidential bid.”The problem is Obama’s coattails only last so long for Joe Biden. And as people start to investigate his track record, and continue to see how Joe Biden campaigns,which we’ve seen before, isn’t very good … then I suspect we’re going to see the wheels come off the cart.”

Green, of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has endorsed Warren, argued that it’s too early to conclude that Biden’s history of not-so-progressive positions won’t be his downfall. “There’s this issue of penetrating with actual voters,” Green said.

He is looking forward to seeing Warren confront Biden about the 2005 bankruptcy reform bill, which Biden supported and Warren has long believed was friendly to credit card companies. “Given how many millions of people are suffering with … debt at the hands of banks and credit card companies,” Green said, “let’s see him try to defend that,” as well as his support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, “point/counterpoint in front of millions of people.”

Chamberlain expects Biden will be hammered on race issues during the debates: “I think you should expect that Bernie Sanders is going to hold him accountable for his racist rhetoric during the push for the crime bill. He’s going to hold him accountable for opposing school desegregation, which is something Bernie was arrested trying to stop.”

Green disputed the importance of the number of Democrats who identify as moderates and conservatives. Ideological “labels are overblown,” he told me, citing his group’s polling of Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats: “While people might not use the word liberal or progressive as a kind of self-label, 80 percent of primary voters want Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax, and 70-something percent want the ‘Green New Deal.’ A very high percentage support ‘Medicare for All.’ …. When the issue debate actually is litigated, even self-professed moderates will instinctively support the Elizabeth Warrens of the world who advocate ideas like universal child care that benefit their family.”

Green said his group’s think-tank arm, the Progressive Change Institute, plans to conduct “some very deep-dive polling testing the back-and-forth arguments on Medicare for All and the Green New Deal” to prepare supporters for the toughest attacks and arm them with the best rebuttals.

Essentially, what this means is that, on some level, the race for the Democratic nomination seems likely to come down to a fight between two different visions of what the 2020 Election, both at the primary and General Election levels, will ultimately be about.

On the one side, there are those like Chamberlain and Green who believe that ideas and policy proposals are what should drive the election and that Democratic candidate should run on ideas like Medicare-For-All and other proposals typically championed by the progressive wing of the party.

On the other side are those Democrats who believe that the primary concern for both the nomination fight and the General Election is selecting a candidate who is best able to take President Trump on one-on-one, win back the voters that Democrats lost in 2016 such as the white working class in the Midwest, and hold on to the suburban women and other voters that put Democrats back in control of the House in 2018.

That’s not to say that the progressives aren’t concerned about winning, or that the “moderates” aren’t concerned with ideas and policy proposals. Obviously, both sides care about both, but the split that appears to be developing suggests that there is definitely a difference in emphasis. What the next year or so will be about inside the Democratic Party is answering the question of which side is best able to convince the people who actually vote in the primaries and show up for the caucuses that their view of the party is the correct one. So far at least, it appears that its the Biden-leaning wing of the party that seems to be winning the argument in the mind of prospective Democratic voters and the progressives who have vastly overestimated their strength inside the party.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Climate Change, Democracy, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    C’mon…Biden is leading on name recognition, alone. We haven’t even gotten to the first primary debate. And the convention, in July 2020, is a long fuqing way off.
    I’m concerned with winning, and getting rid of the cancerous tumor in the WH, AND I expect real ideas and policies.
    All that said…I wish some of these people, who are from red or purple states, would simply go home and run for the Senate. Winning the upper chamber is critical if we are going to fix the damage done to us by Donnie.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? There are Restoration Dems and Revolution Dems. I instinctively favor the latter because I don’t like fighting to a draw, I want to take new territory. I’d go with MacArthur to the Yalu river. But the broader Democratic Party seems to think, No, let’s just put the China shop back together once we get rid of the bull.

    The thing is, they may be wiser than me (I know!) I’ll go to history for an admittedly overheated example and question: the 1930’s, fascism vs. communism. Had the alternative to fascism not been communism but some more moderate ideology, might that have de-fanged the fascists? The various fascist parties could always point and say, Look! Those people are crazier than we are, plus they’re atheists!

    The middle of the Democratic Party appears to be of the opinion that we should remain the calm, moderate alternative to the fascists. Much as it pains me, they may be right. I think we’d all agree we’d rather Biden was ten years younger, but maybe 76 is the new 66.

    Biden/Harris? Biden/Castro? Biden/Abrams? Biden/Buttigieg? The steady old hand plus a prince/princess of Wales to shape the future of the party?

  3. Teve says:

    @michael reynolds: kick Saddam out in 1991 and stop there, or blast them to smithereens and be Greated as Liberators in 2003? 😀

    (I would also prefer to kick Biden to the curb and go with Harris/Warren/whoever, and it’s young, and polls right now are no better than chicken entrails)

  4. Gustopher says:

    For the past few months, Biden has been polling around 30%, Bernie a tad over 20%, and then a variety of mostly progressives pulling up the rest. Biden has a bump, up to 40%, but it’s hard to say whether it’s a bump or a trend.

    There aren’t a lot of interesting moderates running to split that vote. And, a lot of people still aren’t paying attention, so Biden and Bernie are the only ones they are familiar with — Bernie is too far to the left for a lot of them, and that leaves Biden.

    (I did hear Bullock on Maddox last night, and thought he has a lot of charisma, and might pull out of the pack and be a younger, more energetic moderate… I mean, I assume he’s a moderate in Montana)

    I’m glad Biden is running. He might be the right candidate for right now. Or he might be capped at 40%, and drift downwards when the debates start.

    The leftyverse online is a bit of a bubble — its whiter and wealthier than the Democratic Party as a whole, but it also it follows the news a bit closer. No idea which is more dominant — whether it is missing viewpoints, or whether the progressive candidates are more appealing as you get to hear from them more. Obviously both are factors, but I don’t know which dominates.

    The historically safe guess would be that the progressive wing is still not dominant, but that it is stronger than before. And I’m ok with that, as even the moderate Joe Biden would be a leftist by 2000-2004 standards.

  5. Jen says:

    There’s always a potential to overreach, or over-interpret results. This is what happens when people focus on the shiny objects (AOC), rather than data (the districts that put Dems over the top to win the House are ones that were flipped from R to D–and very moderate).

    If I hear “Progressives can win ANYWHERE” one more time, I will probably scream. No, no they cannot. They can win *votes* anywhere, and they can win elections in Democratic districts. But an AOC-style liberal progressive is not going to flip a Republican district in rural Ohio.

    We are a center-left country when it comes to a desire for services (and most cultural issues), and a center-right country when it comes time to pay for services. Everyone needs to keep this in mind, because Republicans are very, very adept at manipulating this in campaign literature/advertising.

  6. MarkedMan says:

    I’ll repeat my mantra here – the next 16 months is about proving they have the chops to run a presidential campaign and get people on their side. I’m OK with Biden and like Harris and most of the others seem fine, but there is no point in supporting anyone at all unless they can catch fire with the Democratic primary voters. We don’t get to pick who we like the best from the entire group, we get to pick from those who can actually generate a solid base of voters. They all have to prove that, except maybe Bernie and Biden who have ridden in this goat rodeo before.

    Your stellar high school athlete may be the best football strategist the world has ever seen and an all around great kid but if he can’t throw a football more than 70 yards then he doesn’t get to be an NFL quarterback. End of story.

  7. Facebones says:

    This is your periodic reminder that Progressive Twitter =/= the Democratic party faithful. The hard core purity ponies are a lot louder than their numbers warrant.

    Left twitter are the same people who stamped their feet and insisted that no one really liked Hillary, despite literally millions of women citing her as an inspiration. These are the insular weirdos who insist that Biden will falter because he’ll have to defend Obama’s legacy. Yeah, it’ll be terrible being associated with the most popular Democrat in the country during a Democratic primary.

    If I had to pick right now, I’d choose Warren or Harris, but I completely understand why someone would like Biden. Obama’s Veep! Folksy and charming! It’s only a surprise to you if you spend your entire day on the Twitter echo chamber.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    BTW, I agree whole heartedly with the rejection of the twitter-verse wisdom. As an example, a few weeks ago Biden called Anita Hill and told her he regretted what happened to her but he didn’t actually apologize for his role in it. From what I heard second and third hand the left wing punditocracy had their underwear all in a bunch about how Biden “still doesn’t get it! It’s a different world! This is exactly wrong!” and I thought, “Hmm, politically this will play well with most voters. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong, but wishes circumstances were different and he still reached out to her.” And this is from someone who thinks she was treated unfairly and Biden bears some of that responsibility.

  9. SenyorDave says:

    @MarkedMan: If he truly doesn’t think he did anything wrong then why call her? It seems to em he wants to have his cake and eat it too – show how magnanimous he is by reaching out to someone even when the issue is non-existent. And the issue was real. Here is a good overview:

    There were three witnesses Biden could have called, two of whom were EEOC employees who could have spoken to the culture of the office.
    The Republicans acted like she was a liar who made the whole thing up, there wasn’t even a bad faith effort to act like they were interested in her testimony.
    Biden was chair of the hearings, he could have made an effort to have a real hearing.

  10. Jen says:


    …he could have made an effort to have a real hearing.

    We’re looking at this through a 2019 lens. Back then, the Senate was way more a chummy, collegial atmosphere. My hunch is no one on either side really wanted a hearing at all–too messy, too noisy. But they couldn’t just deal with an allegation like that behind closed doors (which is what used to happen). So, 1991-Biden thought the hearing *was* the “real” effort.

    I could be way off, but that’s what it feels like to me.

  11. Gustopher says:


    But an AOC-style liberal progressive is not going to flip a Republican district in rural Ohio.

    Neither is a moderate Democrat. We’ve done a piss-poor job in appealing to rural America.

    Suburban Ohio, though? I’d put that at an unlikely, but maybe. The moderate Democrat message hasn’t really resonated, and economic populism is one of the things that set Trump apart from the other Republicans (that, and racism and showmanship). People think that America has lost her way, and that everything is stacked against them. Moderate Democrats represent the status quo there. Trump spoke to it, and has done little, Bernie speaks to it, and some of the progressives speak to it.

    The Democrats have been floundering, and need to shake things up. Part of that is likely to be some ideas from the progressive wing, applied to more rural and small town problems. I don’t know what it will look like, but if I had to guess, it would be a younger, more male version of Elizabeth Warren. Just as Oklahoma, or maybe a little more so.

  12. Joe says:

    Get back to me when there is a clear single candidate representing the progressive wing and how s/he polls against Biden, after a few debates. He may still dominate, he will probably still lead, but we will know only then who really represents the current Democratic Party.

  13. Teve says:

    Your stellar high school athlete may be the best football strategist the world has ever seen and an all around great kid but if he can’t throw a football more than 70 yards then he doesn’t get to be an NFL quarterback. End of story.

    I was at UF yesterday. I live in a rural county 40 mins away. You’d be amazed how many numbnuts in this county think that the only reason Tim Tebow isn’t a successful NFL quarterback right now is that the elites hate him because he’s a christian. 🙂

  14. Neil J Hudelson says:

    Biden has the best shot of winning the nomination, that’s true. But I don’t know if the articles you link to make the case that, collectively, the Dems are clamoring for a moderate. He’s essentially grabbed all of the moderate support. According to RCP, Biden is at 39.8. There are a few also-rans who are in the moderate lane: Ryan at .5 percent, Delaney at .3, Hickenlooper at .2, and Klobuchar at 1.3. Total: 42.1. It strikes me as pretty accurate that four out of 10 Democrats are moderate.

    Liberal side? 49%, but split between many more candidates.

    If–and this is a giant if–a progressive other than Sanders begins to coalesce support in earnest, Biden won’t make it. But, like Trump last time around*, Biden is likely to benefit from a fractured base.

    This is not to say that a moderate or a liberal choice is better, just that I think it’s a mistake to say that person with the largest plurality is an indicator of where the party is.

    *Not comparing Biden to Trump in substance, just in position.

  15. SKI says:

    @Jen: There was another factor – race. There is a reason Thomas started off by labeling the controversy a “high tech lynching” and there has been discussion that Biden and the Dems got spooked by the optics.

  16. MarkedMan says:


    If he truly doesn’t think he did anything wrong then why call her?

    There are all kinds of reasons to reach out to someone who feels you wronged them even if you disagree.

    But my point wasn’t to re-litigate this but merely to point out that some voters might have seen it in a positive rather than negative light.

  17. Jen says:

    The moderate Democrat message hasn’t really resonated

    The numbers from 2018 show that it has. Moderates, mostly, won primaries over progressives. And moderate Dems flipped Republican seats in the general election.

    This is kind of what I’m talking about when I say that people are paying more attention to what their guts are telling them, rather than what the data are saying. Moderate Dems are boring, and uninspiring, I get it. It’s hard to get a message that can coalesce around moderation.

    But it’s more important to WIN. Republicans get this (I know, I worked in R politics a long time ago).

    I will acknowledge that it’s different when one is looking at House/Senate vs. President.

  18. Kylopod says:

    @Neil J Hudelson:

    But, like Trump last time around*, Biden is likely to benefit from a fractured base.

    One difference is that the Republican primaries tend to be winner-take-all, which enabled Trump to quickly amass an insurmountable delegate lead with plurality-wins alone. If the GOP primaries had allocated delegates proportionally the way Democratic primaries generally do, there probably would have been a brokered convention.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    Nasty problem. Rove was right that modern prez elections are turnout elections. Does enthusiasm for a young progressive outweigh Biden’s appeal to the middle? I don’t know. Is there a significant middle? Will Obama/Trump voters come back for Biden? Or were they Bush/Obama/Trump voters who came home after the ‘08 crisis and have gone home to the daddy party? I don’t know any of those things. There are a lot of R voters who favor liberal econ policies. I had no idea how many but a few days ago I found a credible cite of 30% of Rs. Can they be pulled out by Medicare for all? I don’t think so. They don’t want “welfare” they want coal mining jobs. They ain’t gonna get coal mining jobs and I’d rather Ds didn’t copy the R solution of lying about it. But I could be wrong, maybe an AOC could appeal to them.

    Upshot, I have no idea if a progressive has a better shot than Biden. My big concern with Biden is that a long record gives the GOP smear machine more to work with. Obama caught a bit off guard.

  20. Gustopher says:


    The numbers from 2018 show that it has. Moderates, mostly, won primaries over progressives. And moderate Dems flipped Republican seats in the general election.

    That doesn’t show that the moderate message has succeeded, merely that it was preferable to the progressive message in a few spots, and that there was a backlash against Trump.

    The data doesn’t show what you think it does. It doesn’t disprove what you think it says either. The data is just kind of silent on it — there are a lot of possible interpretations, and no data to show the right interpretation.

    Meanwhile, both Biden and Sanders would beat Trump handily in Pennsylvania.

    Does that show a fondness for middle of the road Democrat, a fondness for the far-left, or just a disgust with Trump? Some of each, probably.

    It’s also worth noting that the DLC shifted away from the 50 state strategy pushed by Howard Dean, when he was chair, and this coincided with getting trounced at the state and local level throughout the Obama years, along with The Great Shellacking of 2010. Were still fighting to win back ground lost by moderate Democrats.

    One thing we have seen time and time again through the 20th and 21st century is that when people feel the status quo isn’t helping them, they are easier to radicalize. From fascist Italy to communist Cuba, to Islamist Palestine… to the American heartland. The Republicans are radical, Trump is radical, and they have been winning. I would posit that offering up protecting the status quo isn’t going to be a good long term solution.

  21. DrDaveT says:


    We are a center-left country when it comes to a desire for services (and most cultural issues), and a center-right country when it comes time to pay for services.

    Well, but then there are those pesky fascists. Five years ago, I thought they were like caraway seeds in the Republican rye bread. It turns out they’re more like the Penicillium roqueforti in the GOP wheel — everywhere and growing. They are mediaeval-right on social issues and gimmee-right on services, and would consider “everyone wins” to be an unacceptable outcome. They don’t affect strategy much at this point, though, because there is nothing a Democrat would be willing to do or say that would be in the least attractive to them.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    The Anita Hill hearings were in 1991. It’s been 28 years. 28 years ago I’d written two romance novels and was the restaurant reviewer for the Maine Sunday Telegram under the name ‘Michael Robinson’ because I was managing a restaurant (just a wee bit unethical) and was still a fugitive. My wife was delivering flowers.

    A lot can change in 28 years. The Hill hearings were a long time before most of the country was at all woke on issues of workplace sexual harassment. Judge Biden’s actions then by what he could reasonably have known or understood at that time. It doesn’t show him as some forward-looking visionary, but neither was he a monstrous outlier. In fact:

    All of the 29 polls from major pollsters that asked about confirmation between July 1 and October 14 showed plurality or majority support for Thomas’s confirmation. In many of these polls, there were sizable “don’t know” responses. Opposition bounced around in a narrow range from the low twenties to low thirties.

    Many observers predicted that the hearings would change the opinions of two important subgroups, blacks and women. This didn’t happen. At every point in the final polls, a plurality or majority of black Americans supported the nomination. In the final Gallup/CNN poll conducted on October 14, 69 percent said they would like to see the Senate vote in favor of confirming him. Differences by gender were modest throughout on the confirmation vote. In the final CNN/Gallup poll, 57 percent of women said the Senate should vote in favor, 31 percent said it should not, and 12 percent were unsure.

    The fact is that most of the people who were alive then were with Biden, including most black people and most women – 2 to 1. It is lazy thinking to apply current standards to the past without taking context into account.

  23. wr says:

    There is such a hunger on the right and in the “center” to say that this moment’s poll numbers prove conclusively that America hates progressive politics, so everyone on the left should shut up and support Biden. It’s almost as if they’re not sure if this is real or it’s just a bubble, and they want to make sure their philosophy is nailed into place before anyone else can break through.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @Gustopher: It’s also important to keep in mind the differences between a midterm electoral strategy and a presidential election strategy. To win Congressional majorities, Dems need to be competitive in some very Republican areas–much more than what they need to win in presidential races. In 2018 Dems picked up seats in districts that are as Republican (according to Cook PVI) as states like Kansas, Mississippi, Alaska, Indiana, and South Carolina. The types of Democrats capable of winning in places like those are quite different from any Democrat likely to head the presidential ticket next year–even Biden, who looks like a flaming lefty by comparison to some of those folks. But Dems don’t need to win in those places in order to gain an EC majority, moderation isn’t necessarily advantage in states like MI or WI, and the race is going to be much more nationalized in any event.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    If I were playing Biden’s hand I’d grab one or two progressive ideas that poll well, and adopt them. I haven’t seen much polling on specific issues but I’m guessing subsidies for daycare and help (short of loan forgiveness) with student loans poll well. A more specific, less starry-eyed GND would as well. He’ll stiff-arm free college, Medicare-for-all and a tax on wealth (likely unconstitutional anyway) and double down on choice now that Repubs have given us the issue again.

    With so many proportional states Biden would be likely (barring a meltdown or health issue) to show up with if not a majority then a strong plurality. At that point the progs could unite behind someone except that Bernie won’t play ball and will refuse to voluntarily release his delegates.

    After one inconclusive ballot all the pledged delegates are free – so maybe the Bernie bros play like grown-ups, but I doubt it – and the super delegates get into the act. It’ll be all Biden with the maneuvering mainly over the Veep* slot.

    *Off topic but the Veep finale was perfect.

  26. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:
    I guess I’m glad then that you won’t be playing Biden’s hand, as I would truly regret the outcome you describe. Assuming he beats Trump (neither more or less likely with Biden than most other Dems IMHO), we would we have a President intent to play Obama-nice with the currently malignant Republican party. I like Biden personally, but he’s not of the times. This is true whether the times are as open to progressivism as some think or more moderate. The times call for a Democrat who will treat the opposing party with the contempt they deserve.

    Fortunately, I don’t think the contest for the nomination would play out in Biden’s favor this way. Remember this is Biden. He’s failed to win the Dem’s nomination twice though he looked strong at the outset each time.

    I’ll be watching for the Democratic candidate most likely to have coattails, since winning the Senate is as important to a future liberal agenda as winning the WH.

  27. EddieInCA says:


    (I would also prefer to kick Biden to the curb and go with Harris/Warren/whoever, and it’s young, and polls right now are no better than chicken entrails)

    Harris/Warren wouldn’t get 215 Electoral College Votes. They’d lose NC, PA, OH, WI, IA, FL. Hell, they might lose VA, CO, NM, NV, NH.

    Warren/Harris would be a disaster, regardless in what order they were paired.

    My $0.02 worth.

  28. Monala says:

    @EddieInCA: Can you explain why you think this?

  29. EddieInCA says:


    Because I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life in South Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland, Louisiana, Los Angeles and NYC.

    The majority of Democrats aren’t progressives. The majority of Democrats are center-left. Twitter isn’t America. Facebook isn’t America. The extremes get amplified due to social media and cable news on television, but most Democrats aren’t progressive leftists. Hell, I’m further left than most Democrats but I want to win. Bernie can’t win nationally. Warren reminds people too much of Clinton (She’s amazing on policy, but comes across as an uptight schoolmarm.). Harris would make a great VP candidate, but she might not even win California.

    Together, a white woman with a lot of controversy, and a Black woman who African American’s aren’t excited about, would be a disaster. The country wasn’t ready for the first woman president (Hilary was treated very, very badly by the press), and it’s certainly not ready for a woman/woman ticket.

    My two cents.

  30. Kylopod says:

    @Scott F.:

    He’s failed to win the Dem’s nomination twice though he looked strong at the outset each time.

    I agree with much of your comment, but this particular statement simply isn’t accurate. He was never anything close to a front-runner at any point in 1988 or 2008.

  31. JKB says:

    voters that Democrats lost in 2016 such as the white working class in the Midwest,

    For years, on this very blog, I’ve was told that White, working class, especially the men, of the non-coastal areas were so over and Democrats were moving on to better groups of voters. Guess someone got ahead of themselves.

  32. Teve says:

    @EddieInCA: I was sloppy with my notation. When I said ” Harris/Warren/whoever, ” I meant Harris, or Warren, or whoever, at the top of the ticket. I realize now that / means something specific in politics and I wasn’t meaning that.

    No, shit, two women on the same ticket? America will be ready for that approximately the same year James t. Kirk gets born. Any woman on the ticket will need an orthodox tall white man close at all times the same way Obama needed Biden.

    If you have a high-profile, high-prestige job that gets occupied 43 consecutive times by a tall white man, and you somehow fail to realize that whatever selection process is operating there it is extremely biased toward tall white men, you’re a massive idiot.

  33. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: Forgive me for being cynical yet again, but since we’re talking 1991, it’s also possible that even *liberal Democrats* didn’t really want Thurgood Marshall on the Supremes again when ‘black Justice Scalia’ was available. Also the note about “high tech lynching” spooking the Dems on the committee has some weight.

  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    … the only reason Tim Tebow isn’t a successful NFL quarterback right now is that the elites hate him because he’s a christian.

    You mean that’s not it? And they seem soooo convincing. Wha choo talkin ’bout Willis?

  35. Modulo Myself says:

    I’d chalk the alleged Biden-mentum up to age. I don’t know if the progressive left if the future of the Democratic Party but I’m 105% certain that it’s not Joe Lieberman. I think Biden can win, and he’s done way better than I thought he would, but he’s only done well in polls. Like nothing else has happened–he’s barely had exposure aside from being Obama’s VP. If I were advising him, I would tell him that he can probably run against the fact that the progressive left is the only conceptual game in town for educated people under 40, and that’s the case because of the real world. I mean, being called out for being too handsy probably helped him because of our current environment, but it’s not as if he can continue doing that. Arguing that it’s defensible contextually is not the same as arguing that women are wrong. Same goes with blowback for Anita Hill. He was dead wrong in retrospect. And 1991 was not that long ago.

    Essentially, he’s going to be selling a fantasy about the past and everyone working together and respecting each other, while meanwhile deriding the Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal as being childish dreams. Personally, I think we have a better chance of getting Medicare-for-All to work than having Republicans care about anything except controlling women and minorities and cutting taxes, but I’m not the target of any of this shit.

  36. MarkedMan says:


    that America hates progressive politics, so everyone on the left should shut up and support Biden.

    You may be right, but I want to make it clear that is not how I feel. I want universal health care. I want environmental policy at least as dramatic as the green new deal. And to me, that means Democrats in both houses and the presidency. I’ll support the Dem presidential nominee no matter who it is. But whoever that is needs to prove they can attract a majority of voters. I really like a lot of Warren’s policies but I don’t know how effective she would be in getting them implemented. But that’s a purely academic concern unless she demonstrates the ability to rally the Dems to her cause.

    As for who I want to win? Well I don’t base it on policies alone. Less ambitious policies delivered get us farther than the failure of the “best” plan. LBJ got more done on civil rights than JFK. Nixon got us the EPA. I agree with Hillary Clinton when she said that activists should pay more attention to changing laws than changing their opposition’s minds.

  37. Guarneri says:

    None of you have considered what the stench of the IG report will do to the party and various candidates, nor the formal stench of Durham’s indictments.

  38. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Agree completely about the Veep finale. Series finales are hard, because TV shows are set up to perpetuate a conflict, not resolve it. This one basically laid out the roadmap for the next 20 years of the show…

    About Biden I’m in less agreement. Or maybe that’s the wrong word — it’s more that I’m thinking any predictions at this moment are worthless. To use a pop culture reference so old probably only you and I will remember, the entire country was desperate for AfterMASH until they saw it. There’s no way to know at this point if Biden 2: This Time It’s Personal is going to be Avengers: Endgame or Speed 2: Cruise Control.

    Biden’s not my choice, but if he can make it through the entire campaign and still be on top, I’m with him. Won’t put money on it, though.

  39. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:


    Biden was chair of the hearings, he could have made an effort to have a real hearing.

    I don’t know. The problem is that polls showed that African-American voters supported Thomas because they thought that he was OK because he was a Black dude(Thomas humble upbringing made him more relatable than he really was). At the time Democrats had a majority in the Senate because they managed to elected Senators in the South with a coalition of White and African-American voters(Like, the two Senators in Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia were Democrats).

    In the end these Southern senators were being pressured by White voters while having no support from African-American voters.

    Biden was in a tough spot because the hearings for the nomination were already taking too much time and when Anita Hill appeared Thomas was in the way to be confirmed. I’m not the greatest Biden fan, but, he was in a tough spot.

  40. al Ameda says:


    For years, on this very blog, I’ve was told that White, working class, especially the men, of the non-coastal areas were so over and Democrats were moving on to better groups of voters. Guess someone got ahead of themselves.

    To be fair, those White working class guys lost the popular vote and won the election.

  41. al Ameda says:


    None of you have considered what the stench of the IG report will do to the party and various candidates, nor the formal stench of Durham’s indictments.

    Speaking of stench, I’d say that Barr has successfully made the transition from respectable to mob lawyer, wouldn’t you?

  42. Guarneri says:

    @al Ameda:

    No, I wouldn’t. Then again, I’m lucid. However, it is obvious you haven’t made the transition from Trump colluded to Hillary colluded, and the FBI, CIA and DoJ aided and abetted.

    Stay tuned……..

  43. just nutha says:

    …the entire country was desperate for AfterMASH until they saw it.

    No, I remember AfterMASH also. I think I even watched 2 or 3 episodes before I quit, and I’m not all that discerning about the teevee I watch. I watched all the episodes of Riverdale this season, for example. (I’m also sticking with Legends of Tomorrow although I have no idea of why.)

  44. just nutha says:

    @Guarneri:Hate to break it to you, but Hillary doesn’t hold office now. Nobody cares what she did or didn’t do, and you guys had 8 years worth of shots at her and couldn’t close the deal.

    Personally, I’m tired of the whole Trump thing, too, because it doesn’t matter what he did or didn’t do until dooshcanoooz like you start behaving like you have some intelligence and concern for your fellow citizens. With that as the criterion, I’m not optimistic.