Now, to be clear, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a wide range of views by the countless attendees I spoke to regarding which 2020 candidate they were supporting, with many still torn between two or three. But one moment that truly summed up what’s going on with the progressive grassroots happened when I spoke to a crowd of a little over 100 people at the convention. I asked them which candidate they were supporting or at least considering. I began by asking about Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which elicited a big cheer. Then Bernie Sanders, and again a sizable number applauded. I went on to measure support (in an unscientific way) for a few of the other top tier candidates, such as Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with all receiving some level of support, but far below that of Warren and Sanders.
After a moment of awkward silence, the room then erupted in laughter. Then, however, came the most important question of my informal survey, as I asked, “If Biden is the nominee, will you support him?” Those same people who had just been silent burst into applause with many agreeing that they would vote for a Democrat no matter who it was.
Attendees not only told me that they weren’t supporting Biden, they said they didn’t like him for a whole host of reasons — from thinking that his views were out of step with today’s more progressive party to the belief he’s the male version of Hillary Clinton, as one person put it. But even these people made it clear they would 100% support Biden if he were the nominee — though they often added that, if Biden wins the nomination, he “absolutely” needs to pick a very progressive running mate, and that person should be a woman or person of color, or both.
It’s this progressive pragmatism over progressive purity — even at the very liberal Netroots convention — that reminded me of exactly what I saw and heard in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections. Countless liberals would call my SiriusXM radio show explaining that they lived in a congressional swing district and were working tirelessly to elect the Democratic nominee despite the fact that the candidate was far more moderate than they were.
The reason was a sense of urgency and, to be blunt, desperation to take the House back so it could be a check on Trump. A few of these very same progressives even admitted that in 2016 they had not voted for Clinton because they had supported Sanders in the primary and couldn’t bring themselves to cast a ballot for, as they put it, the more hawkish and “Wall Street”-backed Clinton. But Trump had changed that demand for purity and replaced it with practicality, meaning they were now supporting anyone who was the Democratic nominee.
Of course, the fight for the nomination could get very ugly. But the sense of urgency and desperation to defeat Trump actually trumps progressive purity tests. The unity that Democrats showed in 2018 is the roadmap to their victory in 2020 — and the greatest threat facing Trump.