Why Bernie Sanders’ Potential 2024 Run is Good for Biden

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Last week, a lot of pragmatic Democrats in Washington let out a groan at the news that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ inner circle was laying the groundwork for a possible 2024 White House bid, which would be his third in as many presidential cycles and once again give voice to a progressive message that so far hasn’t landed wins in battleground territory.

The self-described democratic socialist from Vermont has animated a distinct corner of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which, to be clear, is not where Sanders calls his home when he’s not seeking its White House nomination. In his last election as a senator, Sanders won the Democratic primaries but chose to decline them. He then opted to run for office in the general elections as an independent. Sanders’ agenda of Medicare for All, student-loan forgiveness, and massive social-welfare spending has an audience, but it hasn’t been a winning coalition to this point. There’s a significant chunk of the Democratic establishment that openly loathes Sanders for standing in the way of a clean nomination for Hillary Clinton in 2016, despises him for not rallying his base behind her more quickly while he instead wrote a book that made him a millionaire, and questions why he forced Joe Biden to defend his own policy beliefs across multiple focus groups in exchange for an endorsement two years ago.

And don’t even get the centrists and moderates in the Democratic Party started on Sanders. A certain think tank just south of TIME’s Washington Bureau has devoted an inordinate amount of time and effort on derailing Sanders-style socialism in the party.

The Democrats had previously nominated a Vampire Liberal when they elected Michael Dukakis 1988. He lost 40 state. The successful Democrats who have won the Oval Office were skilled—but closeted—centrists who convinced the party’s base they were safe and unthreatening. Bill Clinton was wrapped in a third-way suit, Barack Obama denied marriage equality for the first time, while Joe Biden was just enough anti-Trump. It is important to note that Democrats sometimes flirt with liberal elements of their party but always end up supporting the most elected candidate.

The memo put out by his allies that Sanders hasn’t closed the door on a 2024 run laid bare the problems the party faces. Reliable Democrats freaked out about the prospects of winning the next presidential election if there’s OtherPotential primary in which the frontrunner is facing a Sanders-esque candidate. The sticky Vermont maple syrup is a distraction, so they must remain calm. Burlington’s signals have some limitations. If you read between the lines, the Bernie bros aren’t actually preparing for an intra-party war. They’re just tilling the soil.

For one, Sanders’ allies aren’t signaling an active primary against Biden, who is publicly telling supporters and staff alike that he is preparing for a re-election bid. They’re only carefully saying Sanders would be open to running again for the White House if Biden chooses to forgo a second term.

Sanders is yet to be nominated despite being against two of most highly criticized frontrunners Democrats in decades. Hillary Clinton’s baggage is legendary, yet she still bested Sanders. Biden, whose record now is the product of 50 years in public office, often reflected the mores of the era, but those sometimes don’t look quite right when seen through today’s lens. He prevailed.

Finally, it’s actually in Biden’s interest for Sanders and his pals to float this. Historically, the party in the White House faces steep losses in Congress in its first midterm elections, and Biden’s polling suggests this fall may be more brutal for Democrats than most. Democrats must activate all volunteers, voters, and donors to give them a chance. A drop-off in Sanders’ voters in 2016 may well have cost Clinton the election; two surveys found roughly one-in-10 Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump that year. Having lived through four years of Trump, those Sanders voters didn’t make the same choice in 2020, even if they didn’t exactly love Biden. The 2024 election could be a sequel if Trump attempts his expected comeback: but whether it’s a sequel to 2016 or 2020 may depend on the voters Democrats can inspire.

Biden’s Democratic Party isn’t capturing the imagination of the progressive wing of the party. However, Sanders is still a good observer of the liberal zeitgeist. Sanders is able to animate activists that are on his mailing lists, although they may remain off the sidelines. If the prospect of a Sanders 2024 campaign remains an option, they’ll keep clicking, retweeting, and donating. They may even accidentally create the basis for a Biden-related re-election campaign. His allies might be trying to signal to his base that Sanders would consider a third bid. This could mean they are preparing to play the unlikely role of keeping Biden in power.

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