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Bernie bails, but could still push Biden out of contention

Bernie Sanders may have dropped out of the presidential race, but he’s still insisting he won the ideological war.
 
I don’t quite get the claim, since he was absolutely clobbered by Joe Biden in primary after primary. Once his let’s-abolish-private-insurance agenda was front and center, Democratic voters went for the former VP in some cases by landslide margins. Maybe Sanders was just trying to soothe his supporters.
 
Much of the insta-punditry suggests that the party is lucky that Sanders is bowing out now, rather than take the fight practically to the convention, as he did against Hillary Clinton. But the more important question for Biden is whether he can win over most Bernie supporters in his effort to beat President Trump.
 
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Biden issued the obligatory praise, saying his rival was leading a “movement” and that he hears and sees their concerns. That’s standard-issue politics.
But the danger for Joe Biden is that if he moves too far left, he’ll be swallowing a poison pill that is much more likely to kill his candidacy in November.
 
Biden is already running on a far more liberal platform than anything he and Barack Obama espoused in their winning campaigns. He’s already shifted to the left on such issues as abortion funding, climate change and a public health insurance option (after helping to pass ObamaCare). But it’s precisely Biden’s image as a safer alternative--one who opposes Medicare for All and zillions in new spending--that enabled him to beat two dozen opponents.
 
Two Washington Post columnists say Biden’s first pivot is about to be announced: lowering the Medicare age to 60, and forgiving all student debt for low- and middle-income borrowers who went to public colleges or historically black universities.
 
In his withdrawal speech, the strongest praise that Sanders could muster was that Joe is a “decent guy.” He knows full well that a lack of enthusiasm will prompt some of his fans to stay home, and some of the populists among them to defect to Trump (as happened in 2016).
 
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Plus, what’s this baloney about asking people in upcoming states to vote for him so he’ll have more delegate clout at the convention? What kind of withdrawal is that? You’re either in or out.
 
Sanders told Stephen Colbert that while he knows Biden won’t adopt his platform, “I hope to be able to work with Joe and move him in a more progressive direction” so he can attract “new people.”
 
But a further move to the left would also turn off some of the reliable Democratic voters that Biden, not the most charismatic of politicians, needs to get excited. And since when does the vanquished get to dictate the terms of surrender?
 
Biden’s larger problem is that the coronavirus has frozen the campaign to the point where Bernie bowing to reality is a one-day story. It was way down on the home pages of major newspapers yesterday morning.
 
Here Biden essentially becomes the Democratic nominee--something most pundits predicted would never happen--and he doesn’t even get a victory lap. In normal times, if Sanders was so inclined, they could stage a rally in the Midwest and raise their hands together.
 
Instead, Biden takes the crown at a time when Trump has a huge platform, with lengthy White House briefings, on the only issue anyone cares about. Biden has no role in the crisis, other than kibitizing from the sidelines--he and Trump did have a call that the president praised--and that puts his campaign in limbo. He can’t even meet with donors to try to close the huge financial gap in resources.
 
The 77-year-old Democrat will make big news exactly once between now and August, when he announces which woman he’s picked as his running mate.
 
And will the convention actually come off? Biden himself says there’s a good chance it will be a virtual event.
 
The lack of a four-day infomercial with screaming crowds, and 15,000 journalists in town, would definitely hurt the challenger. A convention that is little more than a web show wouldn’t get many people excited. If the Dems go virtual, it’s likely the Republicans would as well the following week, rather than going to Charlotte. But the incumbent doesn’t need a convention bump as much as Biden does.
 
The flip side, as Biden waits in the wings, is that Trump will probably win or lose based on his handling of the pandemic. The only silver lining for Biden is this will effectively be a much shorter campaign, leaving less time for the gaffes and missteps that marred his primary run.

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