The other day, I asked a mutual friend if Nina Turner was planning to primary establishment lackey Shontel Brown and run for the Cleveland congressional seat again. I noted that Turner sounds a lot like a congressional candidate these days. My friend responded that Nina sounds a lot like a presidential candidate. Early this morning, Politico ran a story, The left is already looking to 2024. Some want to see a Biden primary challenge, that features a large photo of Turner with AOC. Holly Otterbein began by noting that when Biden "first came into office, progressives said he could be the next FDR." They did? That's silly. Biden admitted even during the campaign that he saw himself as a transitional president rather than a transformative one. A very old, somewhat senile and deeply conservative former senator is going to be the next FDR? I don't know what progressive believed anything of the kind. So I guess Otterbein is surprised that progressives are talking about primarying him. Jeff Weaver told her that there will be a progressive challenger, although I wonder why he thinks Biden will even be running.
Weaver stresses that he is not advocating for such a primary campaign. But the chatter about a left-wing challenge to Biden, which was virtually nonexistent weeks ago, has suddenly burst into public view in the wake of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) killing the president’s climate and social spending bill.
“He’s deeply unpopular. He’s old as shit. He’s largely been ineffective, unless we’re counting judges or whatever the hell inside-baseball scorecard we’re using. And I think he’ll probably get demolished in the midterms,” said Corbin Trent, co-founder of the progressive No Excuses PAC and former communications director for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “People will smell opportunity, and D.C. is filled with people who want to be president.”
No one now in office-- and none of the top-tier presidential contenders from 2020-- is viewed as a serious prospect to take on Biden. Nor is there any expectation that Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have enjoyed a significant amount of influence in the Biden administration, would primary Biden. Few seriously think Ocasio-Cortez would risk her political capital in a long-shot challenge to the president, either.
Instead, liberals believe lesser-known candidates are more likely to primary Biden if he seeks a second term, such as former Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner, 2020 presidential candidate Marianne Williamson or millionaire and $18-an-hour minimum wage advocate Joe Sanberg.
“Yes, but someone like Nina Turner or Marianne Williamson. Doubt anyone currently elected," said one prominent progressive when asked if someone from the left would run against Biden.
Really? Marianne is very active politically and has been dogged and fervent in her support for progressive candidates all over the country-- helping them with fundraising, organizing, networking and advice. She told Otterbein that she thinks "the president will definitely face a challenger in 2024 ... The yearning to make government actually work for the people again is so intense now, and yes, absolutely, someone will emerge to make a stand for it."
Otterbein noted that "The fact that any primary challenge at all is now openly being discussed demonstrates how disappointed some progressives are about Biden’s presidency. It’s also a reflection of Biden’s weakness in the polls and his advanced age-- the same factors that are driving more traditional and moderate Democrats to talk privately about scenarios if Biden doesn’t run for reelection as promised." I suppose some "progressives" were naive enough to have had higher expectations from Biden-- and the DSCC-designed Democratic Senate caucus-- to be disappointed.
Though a progressive challenger would face an almost impossible task-- despite his flagging poll numbers overall, Biden is still supported by the vast majority of Democratic voters-- even a symbolic candidate could cause political trouble for the president.
If a left-winger primaries Biden, Trent predicted that “it’ll be a bigger primary than people anticipate-- I think it’ll be like a Jimmy Carter primary.” Ted Kennedy, a liberal, won close to a dozen states during his 1980 challenge of Carter, who then went on to lose reelection.
When Sanders himself reportedly considered running against then-President Barack Obama ahead of his 2012 reelection campaign, the Obama team was alarmed because “every president who has gotten a real primary has lost a general [election].”
No candidate of Kennedy’s stature has even hinted at mounting a bid. “Progressives in the House, in the Senate, in the Progressive Caucus are not talking about primarying Biden,” said an aide to a senior House progressive.
If Biden did face a left-wing challenge, even from a lesser-known figure, it would mark a dramatic turnaround in his relationship with progressives. Though Biden was not their candidate-- and liberals were deeply disappointed watching Sanders come close to winning the nomination only to falter-- they have ended up being among the president’s staunchest allies. Top progressive aides helped elect Biden, and liberal House and Senate members have strongly defended his agenda in Congress.
“President Biden and his senior team have made a concerted effort to reach out to me since Sen. Sanders’ campaign ended and seek input into legislation and strategy,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a former Sanders campaign co-chair. “He wants to implement a bold progressive vision, and he will have my enthusiastic support in 2024 so we have eight years to do it.”
Biden already looks to be trying to make amends with the left. Since Manchin axed Build Back Better, the president has acceded to two major demands from progressive lawmakers and activists: He extended the pandemic-related moratorium on student loan payments and recently offered his clearest and most direct support for doing away with the filibuster to push through voting rights legislation.
There are a number of substantive things Biden could do-- like cancelling student debt and getting everyone free masks-- that would be both good policy and enough politically to take the wind out of the sails of any challenger from the left. But he hasn't done any of them. Much of what Otterbein wrote is in the realm of slow-news-day-fantasy. I've spoken to many of the same sources and candidates she has and I'm not coming to the same pie-in-the-sky conclusions she is. And, speaking of fantasy, where does she even come up with nonsense about J.B. Pritzker and Julián Castro being progressives?
“I think it’s pretty unlikely that a serious progressive challenger would emerge if Biden stays in the race,” said Max Berger, former director of progressive outreach for Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign. “It would so go against the sensibilities of rank-and-file Democrats that I don’t think it would necessarily be a great service to the progressive cause to have our ideas seem so marginal.”
He added that, while it would look bad for Biden if a left-wing challenger received 20 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary, “the flip side of the 80-20 thing is I don’t want us getting 20 percent.”
Left-wing operatives and activists agree that if Biden declines to run for reelection, a more fulsome list of progressive candidates will consider a campaign, possibly including “Squad” members Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley (D-MA.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). California Reps. Khanna and Katie Porter, Warren, former presidential candidate Julián Castro and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also draw mention. If liberals fare well in next year’s midterms, that could also have an impact in shaping the 2024 field, particularly if the election goes as badly as expected for the party as a whole.
With the exception of Porter, who has ties to Vice President Kamala Harris, progressives do not expect prospective candidates on the left to stand down if Biden decides not to run again and passes the baton to his veep.
Some liberals even believe that elected officials who are currently not well-known or closely tied to the left, such as Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, could make a play for the progressive lane in an open primary in 2024.
Few of them, however, have the cache of some of Biden’s top-tier rivals for the nomination in 2020. Sanders, who is 80 years old, has said it is “very, very unlikely” he will run again. Warren, at 72, is younger, but significantly underperformed expectations in 2020. While many liberals would be overjoyed if she ran, Ocasio-Cortez would, at 35, be just old enough to qualify, and many are unsure if she will take the plunge.
A progressive operative said that because of the lack of an ideal bench, talk on the left about a plan B if Biden doesn’t run for reelection is not taking place “as much as I wish was happening, to be honest about it.”
I spoke to Marianne this morning about the Otterbein piece. She told me that "The issue isn’t who’s going to do it; that’s just horse race talk. What matters isn’t the 'who,' but the 'what.' The 'what' is the voice for millions of people who are still having to work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet, millions of people who have no health care, and millions of people who live every day at the traumatized effect of a system that's crushing them. Our job is to become articulate about the problem and committed to a solution. When enough of us do that, who should carry the baton forward as a candidate will become clear as time goes on."
Ally Dalsimer is running for a northern Virginia congressional seat held by a garden variety corporate Dem. Marianne has endorsed her. This afternoon she told me that "Democracy is founded on the idea that if people are not satisfied with the work being done by their elected officials, they can find and support an alternative. The idea of Marianne Williamson or Senator Nina Turner running a primary challenge in the 2024 Presidential race is one I fully support. Personally, I’d love to see them join forces and run on an all-female ticket! Pairing two true champions of the people who consistently stand with the 99% on all the most important issues, would mean that voters would finally have the opportunity to vote for leaders who actually advocate for positions held by most Americans, like Medicare for All-- which 77% of people support. I truly hope President Biden can accomplish great works during his remaining 3 years in office, though I admit to being underwhelmed by his 'success' so far, especially with BBB and his refusal to stop the tar sands pipeline. Whatever these two amazing women decide, I will support them."
Alexandra Hunt, the progressive candidate for a downtown Philly congressional seat, is one of the candidates Marianne is supporting. This afternoon, Hunt told me that "We can look at our current political climate as a breaking point... or a jumping off point. President Biden was elected because he wasn't Trump, but that isn't going to satisfy the American people beyond that initial election. And trust me, it was a celebration here in Philadelphia, we were dancing in the streets. But a year later, we are deeply hurt from the inaction of President Biden. The reality is... the Democratic Party has failed to properly represent voters and our best interests. We aren't just voting for 'not Trump,' we're voting for healthcare, climate action, better wages, reproductive rights, education reform, and for legislation that would truly transform our lives. That's where the energy is and we need a presidential candidate to match that energy. President Biden reminds me of Jimmy Carter, who was elected in response to Watergate. President Carter decided to run again and completely annihilated the Democratic Party's chances of maintaining power. This is because Ted Kennedy challenged Carter from the left and it led to a nasty primary season that ended with progressives losing interest in the presidency and Ronald Reagan won. History is doomed to repeat itself lest we learn from it. And conservatives might blame progressives for not carrying that election, but why is there no reflection of if the left can influence elections, therefore choose our candidate and pass our legislation? It would be wise for President Biden to step aside and for the Democratic Party to seek a new face to rally behind if Democrats are serious about maintaining power and passing progressive legislation. The consequences of failing to do so look like Republican rule with creeping authoritarianism and fascism that we might be wrestling with for the next decade. The Democratic presidential nomination isn't about progressives versus conservative Democrats. It's about a presidential candidate that is supported by the people and not just the Party. That's where old school politics are failing establishment Democrats and it's time our representatives stop bootlicking special interests and corporatations and start doing the job they were elected to do-- representing the interests of the people."
Hunt then added that " In regards to our progressive movement, if we want to send a message to establishment Democrats about how serious we are about shifting power to the left-- we need to do everything we can to get our candidates through the midterms. These 2022 midterms are going to decide the future of this country and a strong influx of progressives being elected and re-elected to Congress could deter President Biden from running again."
Jason Call-- a Washington progressive-- is another candidate who was endorsed by Williamson. And he's not your typical party line politician-- not by a long shot. After reading the Politico story he told me that he hopes "the establishment of the Democratic Party takes note of this article. I believe the progressive primary challenge to Biden is coming, and as for me, I'll be here for it. Biden's first year has been atrocious, and it doesn't seem that anything will be able to unhobble it from either the Manchin-Sinema Senate or the lack of vision for any kind of fundamental change that might appeal to the progressives who 'looked up' 6 years ago and saw Bernie Sanders and thought MY GOD WE"VE GOT A CHANCE. So here's my take. First, let's get a whole lot of #ActuallyProgressive candidates like me into Congress. Shameless plug, but I'm serious. You want voices IN Congress that will support that challenge to Biden. Understanding the media circus, the challenge to the establishment will need airtime. We need to get as many Congressional Dibiasky's in front of the American viewership that might not be paying attention (I'm not judging) and let them know the score. It's part of building the credibility of the challenge. I'll say this here and now - for me, Bernie Sanders is still the strongest potential challenger. I don't care that he's going to be 85, or a hundred for that matter. He's a champion of progressive policy and his favorables are high. And he's not 100% on every issue important to progressive activists like me, there are flaws, but they are few. If Bernie were to run, however (and I say this as someone who threw far too much money at him over the last 5 years, and I've stopped doing so until he starts getting behind progressive challengers to terrible Democrats like he said he would) there will have to be some ground rules, or I'm not biting:
Don't drop out of the race, at all, for any reason. Make a commitment on opening day of the campaign. We are going nowhere until the convention. I'm not even saying he necessarily did the wrong thing in 2016 and 2020 by dropping out. But a third time, let's go for broke.
Stop playing the 'Joe Biden is my friend' game. It's over. These folks are not our friends. Go after them hard on policy, and go after the corporate corruption that infects the Democratic Party. Show no mercy. We do not have time to pretend that politicians funded by ExxonMobil are good people. They are not, and our planet is in ongoing catastrophe because of them. NAME NAMES (Democratic incumbent Rick Larsen WA-02 for instance).
Also, reading the Politico article, keep beltway consultants away from the campaign. We don't need strategists, we need to get in front of the American people and talk to them. High dollar consultants are exactly the problem. The made a science out of keeping themselves in business. We need to break that hamster wheel.
A strong field game is needed.
So that's a lot, and maybe that's not in the cards. But I would need to have these commitments in some way for me to support Bernie again, at least with my dollars. Which means I'm also looking at people like Marianne Williamson. Marianne, as you know (and Blue America here of course) has endorsed my campaign, and I'm eternally grateful to her for platforming me and so many other fantastic progressives. This is the courage we need. Marianne has been through the beltway grind of being a presidential candidate. She knows what she's up against, and honestly just by her stepping up for us candidates, and using her voice to challenge the Democratic establishment, I think she's got what it takes to make a serious run. I can't speak to whether she would run as an independent or a Democrat. (Same with Bernie, for that matter). These are things to be weighed. I'd support either of them either way. I vote as far left as I can in every primary every time. Without belaboring the #DontLookUp point, I just want to note that while the brilliant movie was ostensibly about the climate crisis, the general theme is applicable to any number of contemporary sociopolitical situations, including how we choose a president. Ultimately for us on the left, we see the movie as a satire on the totality of end game corporatism. Writer Danny Haiphong put out a great piece on that recently. So to 2022, I say boldly - let's find our champion. Let's encourage all potentials to give it consideration. And when we that dust settles, because it will likely be contentious, let's come back together, proceed in solidarity and get it done."