Joe Biden has never asked for the socialist left’s help to do anything. Until he does, it doesn’t make sense to even consider giving it to him.
You might think this is a pretty clear distinction, but after the Democratic Socialists of America tweeted on Sunday that it won’t endorse Biden — a decision made at the organization’s convention last year — resistance Twitter had a field day. Now, with Bernie Sanders’ own decision to endorse Biden and the news that the two campaigns will form joint task forces to develop policy goals, the pressure is going to mount for the movement behind Sanders to get in line.
To start, an endorsement from the DSA—of which I was once a member and probably will be again at some point—isn’t just a gesture. It’s the organization saying it’ll commit resources, which for the DSA in a national campaign translates to a little bit of money and an army of canvassers, the likes of which helped Sanders win or effectively tie the first three primary contests and California.
This is not the style of campaign that Biden was running even before COVID-19 took a sledgehammer to conventional politics. His strategy revolved around winning one state, and leveraging his party connections after winning that one state to motivate likeminded candidates to drop out.
To a large extent, Biden’s 1950s-style campaign was necessitated by a lack of big donor money and enthusiasm, much of which briefly flowed to the likes of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar before Biden won South Carolina and those two endorsed him. But to the credit of whoever came up with this strategy, it worked better than anyone could have ever imagined; Biden won states on Super Tuesday that he hadn’t even stepped foot in.
Whether Biden shifts to a more traditional GOTV operation depends on how long COVID-19 continues to upend everyday life and how much money is poured into his campaign from here on out. If we can take any indication from the way he’s campaigned so far, however, it’s likely that Biden’s going to rely more on his own silent majority to deliver a Return to Normalcy than a legion of progressive doorknockers armed with NGPVAN.
Another, more obvious reason that it doesn’t make sense for the DSA to endorse Biden: He hasn’t asked for it!
Biden is very famously not a socialist, and he is very proud of this fact. But not only are his instincts anti-socialist (he was first elected in the middle of the Cold War) and even anti-social democracy (his rise in national politics aligned with that of Third Way), he’s never explicitly come out and said anything remotely like, “We need socialists in this fight against Trump.” The closest he’s come is making a broader pitch to Sanders voters and younger voters, which isn’t the same thing. The reason Biden hasn’t asked for the DSA’s endorsement is because he does not want the DSA’s endorsement.
Moreover, the DSA endorsing the extremely not socialist Biden would not only make zero sense for the organization given its resources — and the organization-ending backlash it would receive for doing so — it would be of more use to Donald Trump than it ever would to Biden.
This is a man who routinely convinces his base, without really even trying, that the socialist left is pulling the strings of Nancy Pelosi and congressional leadership, despite all evidence to the contrary. Given that the Democratic theory of swing states and swing districts is that voters will flee in pants-shitting terror if the Democrats run anyone who isn’t a veteran, a small business owner, or a CIA agent, the idea of Trump slapping “Socialist-endorsed Joe Biden” on its campaign literature is a complete nightmare.
Sanders’ decision to endorse Biden does not change this situation for the DSA and the broader socialist left. Sanders was always going to endorse the Democratic nominee. He has very different priorities than the activists and ordinary citizens who powered his campaign do. Whatever you think of his choice, he is acting like what he is: a politician dealing with internal party issues. His supporters are not required to behave in the same way.
Now that the Sanders campaign is effectively over, the left is without a major U.S. political figure for whom “socialist” is central to their identity. The failure to take power in 2016 and 2020 will call into question the utility of engaging in electoralism beyond the local level, if at all. There are already sure to be a lot of headaches in the DSA’s immediate future; concerning themselves with a Biden campaign that won’t even acknowledge them either way is one more they don’t need.