Will Democratic Party Elites Dictate Its Primaries Again?

A few months ago, an online message to Democratic registrants from the National Democratic Training Committee featured a 2020 election ticket of Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. It asked what we thought of this “winning” 2020 pair.

As a campaigner for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election, I was outraged by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the National Democratic Training Committee’s parent organization, lofting a trial balloon to subliminally embed its candidate choices on us more than a year before primaries.

The Training Committee’s online pitch serves as a reminder that Americans have been denied the power of choosing candidates by the machinations of the party’s ruling class since the country’s founding. Like the DNC’s choice of Hillary Clinton for 2016, these party elites consider all of us a dangerous “basket of deplorables.”

So it’s not surprising that despite Bernie Sanders then being listed as the most trusted and most popular political candidate in the country by many progressive pundits, Biden’s name was in that online poll. He’s always been one of the DNC’s elite, as the “Wall Street Joe” nickname suggests about the former vice president. None of the other candidates, it seemed, were able to qualify for that Training Committee’s consideration. Even after Biden officially became a nominee, a Harvard-Harris poll on May 1 showed Sanders’s favorable rating at 49 percent to Biden’s 52 percent by its 1,536 respondents.

Sanders’s candidacy, however, represents the forgotten and struggling middle class boiling over at what those plutocratic decision-makers have done to wreck what was once the party of commoners. As The Progressive magazine’s Editor-at-Large Ruth Conniff recently observed:

So far, no Democratic rising star has come close to overcoming Bernie Sanders’s big base of support. As of the most recent Federal Elections Commission report, Sanders has raised the most money, and had by far the largest number of small-dollar donors…. Not since Franklin Delano Roosevelt welcomed the hatred of “organized money” have we had a serious presidential candidate who openly exposed class conflict in America, and stuck up for ordinary citizens against the overwhelming power of the wealthy.

This, in turn, has triggered paroxysms of fear and apoplectic fury among those in the Democratic establishment. They want to win the 2020 presidential election, but not with outspoken and grassroots-supported candidates like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Like Roosevelt, these two presidential candidates have made clear that their agendas focus on government of, by and for most of the 99 percent. Small wonder that more than a million have signed up to campaign for Sanders, that nearly 5,000 house parties just kicked off his candidacy and small-dollar fundraising, and that thousands began canvassing in early May.

Overthrowing the Party Establishment

Nevertheless, the DNC has been artfully blackballing the people’s choice ever since the 1924 national convention in New York City, when diehard delegates of 19 candidates refused to cave to their pre-selected nominees. This forced conventioneers to spend 16 hot summer days to cast 103 ballots under the party’s old two-thirds rule, which from 1832-1936 required a supermajority of delegate votes to win the presidential nomination. As a weary Massachusetts delegate complained to cohorts: “Either we must switch to a more liberal candidate or move to a cheaper hotel.”

Since then, the skills of DNC enforcers have come to rival those of the Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 election, in terms of their abilities to crush popular “outsiders” and their planks.

For good measure, after the 1980 nomination battle between Sen. Ted Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter, DNC fixers staved off delegate revolts with the insurance policy of hundreds of “superdelegates.” The change permitted loyal party luminaries 865 in 2016 — to vote at Democratic conventions.

But that hard-fought contest led to furious Sanders DNC members forcing the party’s old guard to agree that superdelegates could vote only if candidates tied on the first ballot. Now, if voters want to overthrow the DNC’s pre-selected choice at the 2020 convention in Milwaukee next July, they will need 2,026 delegate votes at the outset. This means campaigners must make titanic efforts to get great numbers of ordinary people to participate in primaries and caucuses.

The DNC’s pre-selected ticket of Clinton and Tim Kaine in 2016’s “lesser-evil” election could explain why more than the 21 million registered voters decided not to vote. Millions more didn’t care to register or were denied that right by state-level voter suppression laws. Moreover, the combined third-party vote came to 7.6 million, thanks to tens of thousands defecting from both parties.

Democrats and progressives must center in on most Americans’ interests and issues, not the DNC’s fixation on Russiagate, defeating Trump rather than impeaching him, and stopping the Sanders movement. A mid-April CNN survey of Democrats and Independents reported that the top two issues among these voters were mitigating the impacts of climate change (96 percent) and passing Medicare for All (91 percent). Most respondents agreed that any Democratic nominee should support such poll-listed priorities as tuition-free public colleges, impeaching Trump, reparations to slaves’ descendants and restoring voting rights for prisoners.

The Party Elites Look to Joe Biden

The DNC kingmakers’ death-grip on retaining the ring of power guarantees that none of those demands — embodied in the progressive agendas of many of the declared candidates — will be addressed or met. Desperate, the only candidate the party establishment could find was resurrecting loyal party acolyte Joe Biden. His only electable factor was name recognition from decades as a public servant.

At the outset of Biden’s candidacy, because of his name and the fact that he was President Obama’s vice president, his poll numbers started with a bang. In the first week of May, he had a 32-point lead over all candidates, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll of 440 Democratic and Independent voters. He had 46 percent compared to Sanders’s 14 percent, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 8 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 7 percent. But a week later, 27 percent of those Biden supporters said their second choice was Sanders.

As many media pundits have pointed out, it’s still very early to make a determination. Some voters are more familiar with Biden and see him as more “electable” because he’s part of the DNC’s old guard, but fail to remember his reactionary positions. Others may know little about him except as a fresh face in the candidate lists.

The drawbacks to Biden’s candidacy are considerable: chiefly, that he is damaged political goods and out of touch with today’s voters — two factors that would be immediately exposed the moment he entered the contest. The DNC chiefs also knew his poll numbers might take a nice bounce after he entered the lists, but plummet once his track record was more widely revealed to voters.

This public realization did indeed come just after the DNC’s online pitch for the Biden/O’Rourke ticket. Political pundit Norman Solomon deduced that Biden’s candidacy was meant to “rescue the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders.” Further, pundit Paul Street saw Biden’s baleful declaration that he “can’t stand by and let [a second Trump term] happen,” as phony melodramatics, writing, “The irony is the best thing he could do to stop a second Trump term is to stand aside.”

Other stories exhumed Biden’s plutocratic views and cruel congressional deeds: his ring-leading, contemptuous treatment of witness Anita Hill in a hearing for Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court candidacy; unwelcome advances toward several women; consorting with Senate racists; protecting credit card companies against consumers; saving corporations from price-fixing lawsuits; permitting banks to become investment facilities; stripping aid to poor children; and favoring a means test for recipients of Social Security and Medicare.

Worse were reminders about his enthusiastic vote for the Iraq War, his hard push for the job-killing North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and boasts that his “greatest achievement” in Congress was the 1994 crime bill that launched the mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders.

Ignorant missteps followed. In an era of campaign finance reform and candidates like Sanders courting small donations from millions of modest means, Biden spent the evening of his announcement at a fundraiser staged by an executive of Comcast, hustling the CEO of health insurance colossus Independence Blue Cross, as well as “Democratic lawmakers … and other high-powered party players.”

To secure labor’s vote, he lavished attention on union leaders instead of the rank and file, well aware that NAFTA sent tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs overseas. He seems totally oblivious to the nationwide teachers’ strikes over pay, smaller classes and taxpayer handouts to charter schools.

Then came Biden’s foreign bobble, though it revealed an outdated, war hawkish position. He endorsed the Trump regime’s attempts at overthrowing Venezuela’s government to seize its only resource: the world’s largest oil fields. His move came despite Congress’s joint bills barring such action without its approval. Co-sponsors in the Senate include Sanders and 69 House Democrats, including presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard and Seth Moulton.

The Possibility of a Sanders/Warren Ticket

Still, the prospects for the DNC’s choice in Biden for president may galvanize the other 22 Democratic contenders into mass resistance by secretly pairing themselves into a final ticket. In fact, the unofficial pairing has already begun. A Biden/Harris ticket was just touted by some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And former Sen. Mike Gravel sees a Sanders/Gabbard combination as the “ideal” pairing.

But millions of progressives may well favor the formidable team of Sanders and Warren to beat Trump. Such a ticket has nationwide name-recognition and overwhelming popularity among the 99 percent, stemming from the candidates’ persistent efforts in Congress on behalf of ordinary Americans. They’ve co-sponsored each other’s bills, including Senator Warren’s no-first-use of nuclear weapons legislation and Senator Sanders’s Medicare for All bill.

Warren is particularly famous for fighting corporations and banks that cheat customers on mortgages, student loans, credit cards, and other financial products and services. She pioneered the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2010. By the time Trump began gutting the agency in 2017, CFPB had returned $12 billion to 29 million people grateful to Warren.

In this year alone, Warren has hoppered bills to jail corporate executives engaging in fraud; support debt forgiveness for Puerto Rico; medical nutrition programs for the poor; affordable housing; and prohibiting departments from shifting dedicated money to other causes, as the Pentagon did with a billion dollars for Trump’s wall.

She’s recently tackled student-loan debt, with a plan to cancel up to $50,000 for families earning under $100,000 annually. Such indebtedness has inhibited the economy, stunted the careers of millions, and may have bankrupted thousands of helpful parents and relatives. She’s probably drawing tears of relief and gratitude from 44 million borrowers, as well as 5.1 million defaulters of those student loans.

Sanders’s bills over his 28 years in Congress reflect the populist views of his Vermont constituents, the 12,029,699 voting for him in the 2016 primaries/caucuses, and the millions still packing his rallies.

Sanders’s years of legislating have been dedicated to solving needs listed above. This year’s slate, aside from his Medicare for All bill, would expand Social Security and Medicare, provide prescription price relief, reinstate the estate tax, and raise federal minimum wages to $15 per hour by 2025.

He’s supported the Green New Deal, investing in infrastructure, immigration reform, and restoring voting rights to the currently and formerly incarcerated. In foreign relations, he’s for scrapping unfair trade deals, cutting billions of bloat charged by Pentagon contractors, getting out of the Yemen-Saudi war, and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Syria.

Once Biden entered the race, it has become apparent to many DNC watchers and critics that its decision-makers would fight any real “battle” threatening their status quo, as they did in the 2016 primaries and caucuses. As their obedient standard bearer, Biden will be uttering platitudes and warnings about the socialist leanings of the progressives. His only platform seems to be the thin gruel of anti-Trumpism — except for Venezuela — the bizarre “battle for the soul of this nation” and a “middle-ground” approach to climate change, a stance that set off a perfect storm of protests from environmentalists and some fellow candidates. It remains to be seen, of course, if he can successfully pass off his past actions with today’s voters in the months ahead by the old alibi of “those were different times.”

Ultimately, whether Biden wins or loses the primaries makes little difference to the powers behind the DNC. They will still rule the Democratic Party and continue to have absolutely little interest in addressing the needs and lives of the increasingly restive 99 percent.