How Bernie Sanders and his supporters made peace with Biden

When Joe Biden clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in April, one of his first tasks was to broker a truce with rival candidate Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

As the Democratic party’s mostly virtual convention kicked off this week, the Biden-Sanders peace deal appeared to be intact. It follows a careful campaign by Mr Biden, who has tried to court the support of the Sanders camp while excluding some of their cherished progressive policies from his party’s platform.

Hillary Clinton’s failure to build bridges with Mr Sanders and the leftwing of the party after she beat him in the acrimonious 2016 primaries was one factor in her eventual defeat. Many of his supporters either voted for another candidate or stayed at home on election day.

Now Mr Sanders and his closest allies, as well as many of their one-time rivals, say the party is united behind Mr Biden in the face of a common enemy: Donald Trump.

In a live-streamed speech at the party’s convention on Monday night, Mr Sanders said: “As long as I am here, I will work with progressives, with moderates, and, yes, with conservatives to preserve this nation from a threat that so many of our heroes fought and died to defeat.”

He added: “This election is the most important in the modern history of this country. We need Joe Biden as our next president.”

Jeff Weaver, a longtime Sanders adviser, said: “For progressive voters, we are not going to get everything we want from a Biden administration, that is clear. But there will be a seat at the table, and we will be part of the discussion . . . None of that happens if we re-elect Donald Trump.”

Mr Biden’s success is down in large part to the fact that he has a better personal relationship with Mr Sanders than Mrs Clinton, who could not abide the Vermont senator. “Nobody likes him. Nobody wants to work with him,” she said in a documentary that aired earlier this year. The feeling was mutual.

“The Biden people have been honest brokers, and that goes a long way,” added Mr Weaver, who has set up a political action committee to convince Sanders supporters to vote for the former vice-president.

Even though there are still stark differences between the centrist Mr Biden and Mr Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, the two men are “on the same page” on a number of policies, including a $15 minimum wage and making it easier for workers to unionise, Mr Weaver added.

Mr Weaver said this campaign “was very different” from 2016, adding that Mr Biden’s team had worked with progressives to “try to find common ground on a host of issues”. For instance, the Biden campaign set up six working groups to formulate new policies. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — the first-term congresswoman who is popular with many of Mr Sanders’ supporters — was given a seat on the campaign’s climate task force.

In return, Mr Sanders has said he will support the party’s platform, even though Mr Biden has refused to embrace the Vermont senator’s signature policy: a healthcare policy known as “Medicare for All” that would effectively eliminate private insurance.

Instead, Mr Biden has said he backs a “public option” that would compete with private insurers.

However, in a sign that deep differences still divide the Democratic coalition, some of Mr Sanders’ most ardent supporters in Congress, such as Ro Khanna and Rashida Tlaib, said they would vote against the party’s platform this week in protest at Mr Biden’s failure to embrace Medicare for All.

Chuck Rocha, another former Sanders adviser, who recently set up Nuestro PAC, a political action committee targeting Latino voters, said: “[Sanders] said we have got to do everything we can now to beat Donald Trump.

“In 2016, everybody thought Hillary Clinton was going to win,” Mr Rocha added. “This time, there is no lack of effort, no stone unturned. There is a whole new focus.”

About a quarter of Mr Sanders’ 2016 primary supporters did not vote for Mrs Clinton in the general election — instead either voting for the Republican party’s Mr Trump or a third-party candidate, or not voting at all, according to the Co-operative Congressional Election Study, a YouGov survey of 50,000 US voters.

Political analysts warn there is a risk that history will repeat itself: if even a relatively small number of voters in battleground states end up backing a third-party candidate, such as the Green party’s Howie Hawkins or Libertarian Jo Jorgensen, it could end up swaying the election in Mr Trump’s favour.

However, recent public opinion polls suggest the overwhelming majority of Mr Sanders’ primary supporters plan on voting for Mr Biden. Polling from The New York Times and Siena College of six battleground states found that 87 per cent of voters who backed Mr Sanders earlier this year now support Mr Biden. Just 4 per cent said they back Mr Trump.

Still, Mr Biden’s overtures to the leftwing of his party are not without risk. Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that the vice-president is a Trojan horse for the radical left in an effort to scare off moderate or independent swing voters from backing the former vice-president.

But with Mr Biden enjoying a comfortable lead in most national opinion polls, many Democrats say they are not fretting about him losing voters from either the left or the centre.

“I think it is fair to say that 99.9 per cent of all Democrats, and those who identify with Democrats like Sanders, want to see Donald Trump defeated, and the only way to do that is with Joe Biden,” said Kenneth Baer, a Democratic consultant and former Obama administration official.

“If you told me in January that this is where we would be, I probably would not have believed you,” Mr Baer added. “It looked like it could have been a very bloody, messy war within the Democratic party, and that the party itself was not going to be able to unite behind its frontrunner. But it did, it just worked.”

Line chart showing how Trump and Biden are doing in the US national polls

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