Biden aims to move left without abandoning centrist roots

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FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2020, file photo from left, Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Charleston, S.C. Calls for pragmatic centrism helped Joe Biden clinch the Democratic presidential nomination. But they left many of the partys strongest liberals worried that little progress would be made toward their sweeping goals. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden worked out deals with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He defended Vice President Mike Pence as a “decent guy” and eulogized Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's “fairness, honesty, dignity, respect.”

When he launched his presidential campaign, such overtures to Republicans were central to Biden's promise to “unify the country” and “restore the soul of the nation” after defeating President Donald Trump.

Now that he's the presumptive Democratic nominee, Biden is sharpening his tone, still pitching consensus but touting a “bold agenda” aimed at mollifying progressives who remain skeptical he'll deliver enough on health care, student loan debts and the climate crisis.

The idea is to avoid repeating the party’s 2016 defeat, when Hillary Clinton struggled to unite her moderate supporters and backers of Bernie Sanders. The dynamics are different in 2020, with Democrats united in their antipathy toward Trump. But Biden's juggling of the left wing along with mainstream Democrats and independents and Republicans disgruntled with Trump could end up as an unsuccessful attempt to be all things to all people.

“It certainly seems like the approach that they’re taking right now is trying to have it both ways,” said Evan Weber, a co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a climate action youth organization that is among the political groups working with the Biden campaign on policy proposals.

For younger voters, Weber added, “Going too far in the direction of trying to appeal to a moderate narrative or a bipartisan era that most people in our generation have never experienced ... is not going to inspire a lot of confidence.”

Republican pollster Whit Ayres countered that Biden’s “sweet spot” is the center-left.

“You’ve got to run on who you are,” Ayres said. “If he becomes a politician of the left, it’s going to hurt his ability to consolidate the 54% of Americans who voted for someone other than Donald Trump in 2016.”