And that is precisely what may be happening now in the Democratic Party, at least when it comes to what people will do on Nov. 3. For all the questions about whether Bernie Sanders supporters would vote for Joe Biden — the party insider’s party insider, a politician with centrist impulses anathema to any good socialist — we’re getting indications that Democrats will be unusually unified this year.
Consider this gleeful tweet that went out from the Republican National Committee’s opposition research department on Wednesday night:
Yes, that’s Sanders praising the process by which his and Biden’s representatives joined together to formulate a compromise policy program. The RNC took particular note of Sanders’s assertion that “the compromise that they came up with, if implemented, will make Biden the most progressive president since FDR.”
Now consider this poll result from the New York Times:
Over all, voters in the battleground states who said Bernie Sanders was their top choice for president said they backed Mr. Biden over President Trump, 87 percent to 4 percent. If there was a Bernie-or-Bust movement, it has either faded with the conclusion of the Democratic race, or it never existed in serious numbers in the battleground states.Mr. Biden commands even more significant support from voters who supported Elizabeth Warren in the primary. The Democrats who said she was their top choice to be the Democratic nominee backed Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump by a staggering margin of 96 percent to 0 percent — even wider than Mr. Biden’s 96-1 lead among those who said he was their top choice in the Democratic primary.
It’s only one poll, and it could be mistaken. But it represents a stark difference from 2016, when only 74 percent of Sanders supporters said they voted for Hillary Clinton in the general election. In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the number of Sanders supporters who voted for Trump exceeded Trump’s margin of victory.
To be clear, those kinds of defections from a party nominee aren’t that unusual. And according to a Pew Research Center study of validated voters, 94 percent of Democrats said they voted for Clinton, while 92 percent of Republicans voted for Trump. (Many Sanders supporters consider themselves independents.)
But it suggests that this year, it has become much harder for people on the left to dismiss Trump as just a buffoon and say there’s not much difference between him and the Democratic nominee, as many did four years ago. While the Trump campaign is constantly crowing that Trump’s supporters are more enthusiastic than Biden voters are, a Sanders fan who grudgingly votes for Biden because he hates Trump is worth just as much as his neighbor with a MAGA tattoo.
It’s also clear that Biden just doesn’t generate the kind of fierce loathing that Clinton did, from either the right or the left. (We’ll leave the question of why that is for another day.)
That doesn’t mean there aren’t many on the left who still approach Biden with a great deal of suspicion. As well they should, because when it comes to a potential Biden presidency, that’s their job. They should be calling attention to the places where he falls short, where his policies fail to properly serve progressive ends, and where his appointments represent a reinforcement of the status quo. Biden is an unusually malleable politician, which means he will move in response to pressure from the left, but also that such pressure must be maintained lest he be pushed in a different direction.
For their part, Trump campaign staffers are not even bothering to argue that Biden is a wild-eyed socialist; instead, they’re saying he’ll be a puppet of an all-powerful left that will pull his strings. In one particularly deranged vision, former senator Judd Gregg is claiming that once Biden is elected, the radicals will use the 25th Amendment to dislodge him, upon which "power will be fully in the hands of the statue-removers, the social justice police and those who see America’s political history as basically evil. … It will be a coup.”
The Trump campaign’s theory is that there is a significant quantity of voters who quake in terror at “the statue-removers” but might be contemplating a vote for Biden; keep them in line, and Trump’s reelection is assured. In fact, Trump staffers are so convinced of the power of statues as a campaign issue that they’re considering making statues of Founding Fathers a stage prop at Trump rallies.
But if all they can come up with to make that case is that Biden and Sanders have a friendly relationship in which Biden people and Sanders people come up with consensus policy documents, it may do more to promote unity among Democrats than drive moderates away from Biden. And that will be one less thing for the Biden campaign to worry about.