As President Biden prepares to launch another White House bid, the nascent movement to find a replacement to run in his place has flamed out, with Democrats in both wings of the party pleased with the expected direction of his campaign and no alternative in sight.
Progressives have wondered how Biden will position himself in 2024, having seen him both tack to the middle and veer to the left at different points in office.
But they got a major sign of reassurance after this week’s address: more liberal firepower is in the works.
“I have to say, the speech was very good,” said Angelo Greco, a Democratic consultant who worked on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) presidential campaign. “As far as Biden can be pulled to the left and signal what his priorities are … I thought it was masterful.”
Progressives were indeed delighted with much of what they heard on Tuesday night, when Biden laid out what many consider to be their most pressing priorities around taxes, entitlement programs, health care and reforms for massive industries like pharmaceuticals and oil.
They wanted him to talk about raising taxes on corporations and super wealthy billionaires, and to indicate a willingness to ease Big Pharma’s stronghold of patients’ care and pricing. Many also wanted to hear a sincere commitment to improving the way manufacturing jobs and conditions for workers are handled, and to restate his commitment to unions. On top of that, they agreed that there’s much more to be done on guns, social and racial justice issues, and policing.
While one speech can only go so far, otherwise antsy progressives expressed being pleasantly surprised by the direction Biden seems to be headed for his reelection campaign.
The address “proved that the center of gravity has shifted in American politics,” said Adam Green, who co-founded the left-wing Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Green, like others in the progressive movement, were especially thrilled with Biden’s approach to Social Security, a hot-button policy that the whole Democratic Party has coalesced around to stave off attacks from Republicans trying mightily to reframe the issue in their favor.
“The fact that Republicans now at least pretend to oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare shows how far progressives have successfully moved the debate since several years ago,” he said.
Biden’s much-hyped address did as much for his personal brand as it did for an unofficial campaign kickoff, especially in the eyes of progressives who were slyly sizing up other options.
The idea that left-wing Democrats would recruit and convince someone to run against the sitting president was always considered a bit outside of the mainstream. But that didn’t entirely stop some from privately talking about Sanders or even Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) as possible choices, before ultimately conceding that most top fixtures in the party would not mount a primary challenge.
That became even more clear as Biden acted on their wish list items, including penning a student loan forgiveness executive order and signing off on the Inflation Reduction Act, which included major provisions on key focus areas like climate change.
Beyond the contentment with Biden’s leftish leanings, there’s also the stark reality that progressives simply don’t have a realistic alternative who they believe can outcompete the president in the primary process. That’s even more so the case now that the Democratic National Committee has worked in tandem with the administration to tentatively amend the calendar lineup to make Biden-friendly South Carolina the first state to vote.
While there’s still a desire within smaller progressive and activist circles for a more liberal kind of Democrat to emerge, there’s less motivation to weave together a serious action plan that could give Bidenworld a run for their money.
“I think it was more or less dead before SOTU,” said one Democratic strategist close to several progressive lawmakers on Capitol Hill about a hypothetical Biden challenger movement. “Maybe more chatter has died down, but no one was actually moving to run.”
A second operative who worked on a rival presidential campaign to Biden in 2020 agreed that the State of the Union didn’t change things for the upcoming electoral fight, and speculated that if anyone wanted to challenge him, one strong national address wouldn’t deter that.
“Any Dem still pushing the idea [that] Biden might not run in 2024 should hit pause on printing their campaign merch,” said Max Burns, a political strategist and writer who skews to the left.
Burns was addressing the much more widely asked question on Democrats’ minds about whether Biden, now 80, would actually run next cycle. For those in that camp, his speech made it clearer that he is preparing to run — and on a pretty progressive platform.
“Biden went out on Tuesday with much more energy than even some Democrats expected,” Burns said. He “wasted no time getting into a sparring match with the GOP.”
Still, there is a lingering sentiment out there that Biden’s not the top choice to lead a head-to-head general election contest. A poll released this week by Washington Post-ABC News found that “nearly six in 10 Democratic-aligned adults don’t want to see Biden renominated for the job,” according to the survey, a data point that caught the attention of one of his old presidential competitors.
Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Obama, said that the poll shows a flaw in the Biden standard bearer thinking for 2024. Chinese spy balloon has GOP saying no cuts to defense Bolsonaro says he may return to Brazil in the coming weeks
“It’s the general consensus that Dems are content with Biden in a Trump rematch,” Castro tweeted in reference to the findings. “But this poll undermines Biden’s central argument for re-nomination.”
Many progressives admit to wishing that someone who can pass their purity tests would have emerged earlier in Biden’s first term and would have been perceived as a credible challenger by now. But most also acknowledge that simply hasn’t happened.
“I’m a critic, and I do think quietly behind the curtains people are a little bit disappointed that there is no one who can speak out,” said Greco. “As a matter of principle, it would be nice to have someone out there challenging him or the establishment, but it just seems so not viable.”