Bernie Sanders reluctantly did the right thing on Wednesday morning, April 8 by announcing that he was withdrawing from the Democratic presidential race. He made this announcement sooner than expected. It was becoming pointless, if not counterproductive, to persevere during a health crisis that was effectively making the Democratic race invisible and impracticable. In any case, former Vice President Joe Biden had already become the party’s de facto presidential candidate a few weeks ago. The primary held on Tuesday in the key state of Wisconsin would further confirm this, based on preliminary polls.
Let’s hope that the fundamental societal debates raised by the democratic socialist Sanders, whether it be access to health care or systemic economic reforms, do not get sacrificed in pursuit of the greater electoral goal of ousting Donald Trump from office next November. This would be unfortunate and absurd in these times of the coronavirus, when health issues, matters of life and death, require urgent action that the United States is ill-equipped to take.
Fortunately, Sanders’ relationship with Biden is not acrimonious, unlike his relationship with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 nomination contest. We know that the two men are continuing “negotiations.” Now it is up to the very centrist Biden to reach out to the left wing of the party that Sanders, whose political success was considered unlikely four years ago, continued to mobilize around his “revolution” in an unprecedented manner. Columnist Thomas Friedman interestingly suggested that Biden form a “government of national unity” in which the left would participate on an equal footing with moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney. It has become all the more important for the Democratic Party to unite because, as events in Wisconsin have shown, the pandemic raises issues of voter suppression which the Republicans are determined to shamelessly exploit.
“All politics is local,” said Tip O’Neill Jr., the late Democratic speaker of the House, in his day. And in the United States, that’s never simple. In Wisconsin, voters went to vote in the presidential primary on Tuesday, as well as for the election of a judge to the state’s Supreme Court. For attempting to delay the election date and expanding and prolonging postal voting due to the pandemic, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers faced opposition from the conservative majority in the Legislative Assembly, opposition which was upheld by the state supreme court, and then by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Voter participation in these elections would decline without the measures Evers proposed. This always suits Republicans everywhere, as they notoriously benefit from by low participation rates. President Trump openly acknowledges this nowadays, going so far as to state that if postal voting were expanded, “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
In this particular case, it was a matter of supporting the reelection of conservative judge Daniel Kelly to the state’s Supreme Court on Tuesday. This is not insignificant, as voter registration is the subject of epic nationwide political and judicial struggles between Democrats and Republicans, and we must remember that Trump lost in Wisconsin in 2016 by a margin of only 0.77% (22,750 votes).
What is happening in Wisconsin is just a preview of the clashes that are emerging between the two parties in the lead-up to the presidential election around voting procedures in the times of the coronavirus and “social distancing.” The biggest battle around voting rights since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is perhaps currently brewing, says The New York Times. In any case, it is an issue of democratic health that goes far beyond this president that we love to hate so much. By demanding that voting take place in person for the most part, Republicans are asking voters to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote. It’s a choice they shouldn’t have to make. While gerrymandering has benefited the Republicans for 20 years, Republicans have now added another string to their bow: taking advantage of the health crisis.
For his part, Biden plans to hold an online Democratic convention in August without an audience. The Democrats in Congress say that preparations must be made for an expanded, if not universal, postal vote in November in the event that the crisis persists. Here, their interests are compatible with those of the American people.