column

Biden needs the Bernie Bros. Will he give them a say in policy?

If the Democrats are to defeat Trump, Sanders’s leftist and anti-Israel supporters must embrace the nominee, but what will he have to give them to secure their support?

Former Vice President Joe Biden recieving an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for his presidential run. Source: Screenshot.
Former Vice President Joe Biden recieving an endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for his presidential run. Source: Screenshot.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

In a flight of fancy and an almost superfluous reminder of his irrelevance, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggested this week that a dream cabinet for Joe Biden should he win in November would include a rather odd choice for ambassador to the United Nations: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

AOC’s lack of foreign-policy knowledge is not the main reason to mock this suggestion. When asked this week whether the camp of the presumptive nominee had reached out to her in the wake of the withdrawal of her choice for president—Sen. Bernie Sanders—from the race, the congresswoman admitted that it hadn’t. And given her continued expressions of disdain for the former vice president, she’d be well-advised not to hold her breath waiting for such a call.

Friedman’s nonsensical column is a reminder that a Democratic victory is going to require the kind of reconciliation between the Biden and Sanders camps that was missing four years ago. In 2016, the Vermont Socialist’s supporters were distinctly unenthusiastic about jumping on the Hillary Clinton bandwagon once Sanders belatedly conceded the Democratic race to her because they thought he had been cheated by the Democratic establishment.

It’s assumed by many liberal pundits that the goal of denying re-election to President Donald Trump will be enough to unite all Democrats. While Sanders sent a strong signal to his supporters by not waiting any longer to endorse Biden, some of them aren’t getting the message. The senator’s social-media shock troops—nicknamed the Bernie Bros, which spent much of the last year treating centrists like Biden as apologists for “fascism”—are still expressing anger about the way the rest of the party fell in line following the South Carolina primary in order to stop Sanders.

As Clinton proved, Democrats can’t win without the same kind of enthusiastic support and massive turnout of young and minority voters that lifted Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012. They need to reassemble that Obama coalition in which blacks, Hispanics and liberals under the age of 30 unite with working-class white voters to defeat Trump.

It remains to be seen whether or not that will happen. But the aspect of this effort that is of particular interest to pro-Israel activists is what sort of price Biden is going to have to pay to Sanders in terms of policy and appointments.

The pro-Israel camp in the form of the Democratic Majority for Israel group played a not insignificant role in helping to undermine Sanders at a point in the campaign when he was the frontrunner and Biden seemed dead in the water. The result was not just a series of primary victories for the beleaguered Biden, but also for the pro-Israel wing of his party over a Sanders campaign that had been largely taken over by pro-BDS forces and other opponents of the Jewish state.

But the dynamic of the election is such that now, rather than being chased out of the party as some pro-Israel activists would like, AOC—as well as pro-BDS anti-Semites like other fellow “Squad” members Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—are, at least for the next few months, more important than ever.

Biden cannot afford to emulate the way Clinton gave short shrift to Sanders’s supporters once she had secured her party’s nomination. If Biden wins, it will only be with the active support of the hard left and their rock stars, like Omar, Tlaib and AOC.

In any normal year, the first real test of this proposition would come during the prelude to the Democratic National Convention, when the party platform would be written. In 2016, despite Sanders’s placement of opponents of Israel on the platform committee, Clinton’s camp was able to marginalize them. Nor did Clinton pay them much heed during the course of her complacent and ultimately disastrously inept campaign.

Biden, who has spent the last year trying, with mixed success to be all things to all people, understands that he can’t treat the Israel-haters and anti-Semites on the left with the same disdain as Clinton did. And with normal campaigning on hold and the quadrennial convention coronation unlikely to occur because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic leader will be even more hard-pressed than before to appease Sanders and his leftist allies.

Tradition tells us that Biden will tack to the center during the general election campaign. But anyone who follows the Bernie Bros on Twitter knows that if there is one issue on which they are most vocal, it is in seeking to undermine the U.S.-Israel alliance. An enthusiastic reaffirmation of that alliance is bound to alienate the leftists Biden needs to fire up this fall.

In order to do that, he’s going to have to not just talk about Medicare for all and the expansion of other entitlements, but to make gestures on foreign policy to the Sanders camp. And the most likely sacrifice to be made on the altar of radical support for Biden may be any notion of him reaffirming some of Trump’s pro-Israel gestures on Jerusalem, his Mideast peace plan and his Iran policy.

It’s going to take a lot of courage on Biden’s part to resist pressure to back away from Israel, especially if Trump ally Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in office. While the Democratic establishment would prefer to treat the Sanders camp and its Israel-hating cadres with the same contempt as Clinton, the left may wind up having more influence over Middle East policy than Biden’s centrist donors would like.

While Biden’s main challenge now is running for president while stuck in his basement as the virus rages on, the question is whether he will have to pay for the support of Sanders and his online trolls in ways that may offend pro-Israel Democrats.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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