Just 15 days ago, Sanders seemed unstoppable. Prior to South Carolina, he appeared to be in the prime position to be the Democratic nominee. Sanders had swept Nevada, leading Jacobin magazine to triumphantly proclaim It’s Sanders’ Democratic Party Now.
The situation, however, has rapidly changed since then. Joe Biden received the key endorsement of Jim Clyburn in South Carolina which helped carry him to a commanding win in the state. All of Biden’s establishment opponents dropped out and, the day before Super Tuesday, flew to Texas to throw their support behind him. This shift — due, in part, to intervention on the part of Democratic Party leaders including former President Barack Obama — helped put the finger on the scale heading into Super Tuesday and Biden emerged as the front-runner both in narrative and in momentum. The actual difference between the two candidates in terms of delegate count, however, was still relatively small.
It’s a different story now.
Biden won Mississippi, Michigan, and Missouri — all by a fairly wide margin. Mississippi continued the earlier trend of Sanders losing very, very badly in the South. The margin between the candidates is widening and the media is praising Biden as the “most electable” candidate ad nauseam.
This has strengthened Biden’s position as front-runner both numerically and symbolically. While there are many more delegates to award and it is not mathematically impossible for Sanders to win, it is hard to imagine a path to the nomination for Sanders. He is not forecasted to do well in the upcoming states. If Biden is able to win Florida, Illinois, and Ohio on March 17, as he is currently predicted too, it will in all likelihood be the end of the road for Sanders. There are already calls for Sanders to drop out and endorse Biden.
As of right now, barring any potential new developments that would radically shake up the race, Joe Biden will have a healthy majority before the convention, guaranteeing his position as the Democratic nominee. This is the best possible outcome for Biden. The Democratic Party establishment needed to defeat Sanders without making it look like they were the shadowy figures that Sanders (accurately) criticized them for being. Biden will be able to take control without having the bad publicity of a contested convention where the establishment would have to overtly rig the election. Instead, he can — as Hillary Clinton did in 2016 — sit back and point to the fact that he received more votes than Sanders to refute any accusation of foul play from the Sanders camp. And this time, there (likely) won’t be leaked DNC emails about tipping the scales, as there was in 2016. Without a fight for nomination that drags on till the convention, the Democratic Party can also begin to fully close ranks and soon enough, Sanders will drop out and campaign for Biden, becoming a crucial Biden surrogate on the campaign trail.
Rigged but not stolen
It is important to note, as we examine what happened to the Sanders phenomenon and consider what is to come, that the Democratic Party hasn’t stolen the election, although it has always been a rigged process. A few weeks ago, it seemed all but certain that Sanders would win the primaries and head to the convention with a plurality of delegates, but not a majority. In this case, the decision of the nominee would have been in the hands of superdelegates who would have undoubtedly taken the nomination away from Sanders and given it to someone more establishment-friendly. This would have marked a clear moment of crisis for the Democratic Party and reveal for many the lack of internal democracy within one of the U.S.’s two bourgeois parties.
The entire electoral process is rigged. The fact that the media and the Obamas clearly tipped the scales for Biden is yet another example of this.
But the fact that it didn’t come to stealing the election is vital because it also represents that — while the establishment certainly pulled some dirty tricks completely within the allowances of the primary system to make the path easier for Biden — Sanders didn’t have the support from the Democratic Party base needed to win. This is especially noteworthy because exit polls so far suggest that many of Sanders’ key demands are much more popular than he is.
There is a disconnect between how Democratic Party voters feel about voting for Sanders and how they feel about Sanders’ program. This disconnect is a result of a multitude of factors, including the media narrative of abusive “Bernie Bros,” fear-mongering about Cuba and “electability,” Joe Biden’s positioning of himself as “a return to stability,” and Sanders’ own inability to turn out his base. As the impact of the coronavirus spreads across the U.S. and the Trump administration proves ill-equipped to handle it, the economic and social uncertainty created by the pandemic may also be pushing voters to choose a more moderate candidate.
The death blow for the Sanders candidacy seems to have as much to do with voter turnout as it does with Democratic Party interference. While the Democratic Party establishment was intervening to coalesce support behind Biden and mobilize large sectors of the Democratic Party base, Sanders wasn’t able to mobilize voters in numbers large enough to fight back the Biden tide. Indeed, in states like South Carolina and Virginia, where turnout was meaningfully higher than in 2016, Biden beat Sanders by a landslide.
At the same time, the energy and enthusiasm behind Sanders is undeniable; the millions of working-class people who donated and canvassed meant that Sanders became a truly viable candidate and the entire country watched the Democratic Party primary.
In this sense, the fact that the election wasn’t stolen means that the questions for the Sanderist movement are now even more existential.
Joe Biden Presidency?
Joe Biden is a war hawk who supported the war in Iraq and countless US interventions since. He has an abysmal record on reproductive rights, supported the Hyde amendment, and is known for the blatant misogyny he expressed while questioning Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’ nomination. Biden also wrote the 1994 Crime Bill. The list goes on. Although most Democratic party voters agree with Sanders’ positions, Biden represents the right wing of the Democratic Party.
Furthermore, Biden’s program of “defeat Trump” is entirely uninspiring. He isn’t bringing in the massive crowds of supporters that both Sanders and, to some degree, Elizabeth Warren were able to pull together. There isn’t much enthusiasm behind Biden. And it’s no wonder. Even a cursory look at Joe Biden would make one conclude that in normal circumstances, he is entirely unelectable, clearly suffering from cognitive decline and struggling to put out a coherent sentence. It’s clear: the Democratic Party would rather lose with Biden than win with Bernie. Why? Simply put, because Biden does not pose a threat to the Democratic Party’s status quo, win or lose. From every angle, Biden shows that he will fight to generate profits for the ruling class (including the health insurance industry, whose stocks went up after Super Tuesday) and protect their interests at the expense of the vast majority of people.
But, in light of the economic crash and the possibility of a 2008-like recession and in light of the coronavirus, Trump’s primary argument for his re-election is under threat: the “strong economy.” This puts Biden in an unexpectedly stronger position in the general election. But a Biden Presidency would mean more of the same, with bailouts of big businesses while working class people are crushed by a recession, or lack of healthcare while people are crushed by medical debt or die because they put off care due to the possibility of debt. In fact, Biden said he would veto Medicare for All.
It’s hard to look at Biden and even make a real “lesser evil” argument.
Socialists Shouldn’t Be in the Democratic Party.
Sanders is successful at speaking to a growing sense of injustice under the current system. He was a electoral expression of the sentiments behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, expressing the discontent with the growing wealth disparities. It is from those seeds that the Sanders phenomena arose, with a new generation of politicized young people pointing to the need for socialism. For Sanders, this socialism, however, just meant New Deal liberalism and reforms like Medicare for All — policies that are good, but not socialist.
The choice of socialist organizations like the DSA and publications like Jacobin to support a Democratic Party candidate is especially indefensible after his experiences in 2016, when the Democratic Party establishment also tipped the scales to keep Sanders off the ticket. To expect that four years later, he could get a fair shot at winning is doing the same thing time and time again but expecting a different result this time. The Democratic Party establishment was never going to let Sanders win. The fix was in from the beginning and, by playing by their rules, Sanders has made himself both a victim and an enabler of the establishment.
Now, a Sanders presidency is almost out of reach. Some may argue that Medicare for All is out of reach as well.
The problem here is that a newly radicalized sector that is sympathetic to socialism sought to fight for reforms through the apparatus of the Democratic Party. By hitching the hopes for Medicare for All to a politician within the Democratic Party, this new generation of socialists funneled time and energy into a bourgeois party that won’t allow a Sanders presidency or Medicare for All. The new movement is left empty handed, having built an army of canvassers for the Democrats — not an army of protesters, picketers and strikers. But it wasn’t, and still isn’t, impossible to win Medicare for All — and socialism too, if we take key political conclusions.
As Sanders supporters begin to grapple with where to go from here, an important conclusion about this experience must be drawn: the Democratic Party cannot be reformed. The attempt to reform it is a losing one. It was a losing strategy for Sanders, as it was for McGovern and for the Rainbow Coalition before him. It will be a losing strategy for Ocasio Cortez and any other progressives – and they aren’t even socialists.
The Democratic Party really holds nothing for Socialists and it certainly cannot be a means to a socialist end. The Democratic Party is a bourgeois institution designed, created, and used to defend capital at every turn. There is no way to use or reform the Democratic Party to do the opposite of what it exists to do. As the experience of Sanders shows, the leaders of the party won’t let that happen and they have the entire capitalist state apparatus at their back to prevent it.
At this time, many Sanders supporters are beginning to draw these conclusions. #DemExit was trending on Twitter in the hours shortly after Tuesday’s vote, indicating that a section of Sanderists are ready to leave the Democratic Party.
This is important because it shows a potential step away from the tyranny of electoralism that has defined much of the strategy for the U.S. Left in recent years. Neither reforms nor socialism will be won at the ballot box. We need a mass movement in the streets and in our workplaces in order to win them.
We can use the ballot box, but to put forward independent, socialist candidacies to popularize the idea of socialism and strengthen the struggle in the streets. We can look to the example of the Workers Left Front (Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores, FIT) in Argentina to see how an independent working-class electoral force can be built outside bourgeois parties and reach millions of people with socialist ideas and organize them to mobilize.
We need a socialist party of the working class, a party that is based in class struggle and understands that the working class are the only ones with the power to defeat capitalism — not because they are more moral or politically conscious than other groups but because they alone have the power to stop the creation of new capital. We need a party that fights for us, that fights for the better world that so many of us are seeking, that fights against the establishment and against the bourgeois pressures of ‘electability’.
In seeking to preserve the status quo, the Democratic Party has chosen, through a deeply undemocratic process, a man who is as bad a candidate as he is a potential president. This is not a fluke, this is what the Democratic Party does. We will never be able to take control of the party. Our only choice — our only hope — is to form our own party based in socialism and working class independence. That is how we win: by organizing the working class through a political entity that unambiguously fights for our program without compromise.