Sanders and Biden should get together. It would be best for Sanders to initiate the meeting, in which he will propose to drop out of the race for the nomination in return for certain considerations from Biden. What those considerations might be would be subject to negotiation, but the basic idea is that Sanders represents a major constituency within the Democratic Party, one which Biden needs to accommodate.  The meeting could be compared to the 1960 5th Avenue townhouse meeting between Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller in which the more conservative presumptive nominee, Nixon, made platform policy concessions to the moderate Rockefeller in an effort to ensure party unity in the upcoming election. Overall, Biden’s stated policy positions are quite progressive: more progressive than the 2016 Democratic Party platform, which in turn was the most progressive in many years.  Still, there’s room for improvement.

I’d like to see Sanders focus on taxes and economic and financial policy in that meeting.  Biden’s tax proposals represent a significant improvement over the status quo and even improve on the pre-Trump status quo ante, but they’re still too timid. They include no wealth tax and no increase in the top marginal tax bracket beyond the pre-Trump level.  There’s strong popular support for both. Biden can do a lot better.

In economic and financial policy, Sanders can seek assurance that the Biden who repeatedly supported the awful, Republican-inspired idea of a balanced budget amendment is a changed man. Since personnel is policy, Sanders should require that Biden’s economic team not look like the band of Wall Street insiders and deficit hawks that Obama brought in in 2009. (For example, Sanders should presume to place a veto on Michael Bloomberg or Chase’s Jamie Dimon as Secretary of the Treasury.) Sanders might also provide Biden with lists of suggested appointments to the new president’s transition team and administration in other policy areas.

Biden is a thoroughly conventional Democratic politician.  He has almost never taken a position on any major issue that was ahead of the Democratic Party mainstream.  (An arguable exception: he prodded Obama to change his position on marriage equality.) But being a conventional politician, Biden knows how to roll with the times.  And he knows that he needs the support of the Sanders/Warren wing of the party to maximize his chances of victory this November.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was surprised recently to learn that in pondering a run for the 2016 nomination, Biden seriously considered Elizabeth Warren for a running mate, as a unity gesture toward the progressive wing of the party. (Hillary Clinton made no such gesture, choosing the bland centrist Tim Kaine as her veep.)

Of course, in accommodating Sanders, Biden would have a right to expect certain considerations in return. Even if (as I expect) Sanders has his name placed in nomination at the convention, he would have to change the thrust of his public statements.  He can argue affirmatively for his own policy positions, but explicit attacks on Biden have to end: from here on in, they can only help Trump.

Both Sanders and Biden want to end the nightmare that is the Trump presidency.  Both are smart enough to know that a united Democratic party is critical to that end.  They need to talk.


Correction: In the original version of this post, I wrote that Biden proposes no increase in the top marginal tax bracket. I meant to write that he proposes no increase beyond the pre-Trump level.


  1. Richard Pious March 19, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    Biden need not give Sanders a “veto” or anything close to it. He’s shown he’s perfectly capable of moving to the left on various issues without having Sanders tell him how to do it. Two-thirds of the Democratic voters reject both Sanders and his more extreme positions, so if anyone needs to make accommodations it is Sanders and his followers. The race will be won or lost through turnouts (especially the “base”) and the preferences of the same kind of voters who gave Democrats the mandate to run the House in 2018. They are the least likely to want to see Sanders have any influence at all in the coming campaign.

    • tonygreco March 19, 2020 at 8:09 pm

      The critical questions are: just how much and in what ways does Biden need the support of the Sanders/Warren wing, and how much of it does he risk losing if he takes the hard line you suggest. It will be interesting to see how Biden comes out on this.

  2. John Duggan March 19, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    Good piece. Thanks Tony. I hope they’re both listening!

  3. Bill Anscher March 20, 2020 at 5:27 am

    If Sanders supporters do not vote for Biden no matter what, then we will get the president we deserve.

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