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Will Biden Face a Primary Challenger?

With midterm elections just 11 months away, will Biden face a primary challenger?
From GPA Photo Archive on Flickr

By Igor Derysh / Salon.com

Jeff Weaver, who ran Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and was a Sanders adviser in 2020, predicted that President Joe Biden will face a progressive primary challenger in 2024 amid growing disillusionment on the left over the Democratic agenda.

“Will there be a progressive challenger? Yes,” Weaver told Politico. He told the outlet that a challenge would not be a “repudiation” of Biden but rather the result of the party’s base moving further leftward. “Progressives are ultimately ascendant,” he said. “And if nothing else, a progressive running who gets a lot of support will demonstrate that the ideas that the progressive movement embraces are, in fact, popular.”

Despite Biden’s lifelong reputation as a moderate and pragmatic Democrat, progressives embraced Biden in the early months of his presidency, as he vowed to unite the party’s various factions to advance an ambitious agenda that encompassed many policy priorities Democrats have focused on for years. But after successfully pushing through a COVID relief bill last March, Biden’s first-year legislative accomplishments have largely been limited to a bipartisan infrastructure bill authored by centrist Democrats with some support from leading Republicans. Progressives remained united with Biden in the push to pass his $3.5 trillion Build Back Better proposal, and largely avoided criticizing the slimmed-down version (at about half that size) that was meant to appease conservative Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But party leaders pushed progressives to support the bipartisan infrastructure vote before a Build Back Better deal was struck, costing the left its primary point of leverage even before Manchin blew up BBB negotiations last month.

Weaver’s interview reflects the fact that a growing number of progressives view Biden’s early presidency as a failure as the White House kicks off a new year with largely the same legislative agenda — and midterm elections just 11 months away.

“He’s deeply unpopular. He’s old as shit. He’s largely been ineffective, unless we’re counting judges or whatever the hell inside-baseball scorecard we’re using. And I think he’ll probably get demolished in the midterms,” Corbin Trent, co-founder of the progressive No Excuses PAC and former communications director for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., told Politico, endorsing Weaver’s prediction. “People will smell opportunity, and D.C. is filled with people who want to be president.”

It’s unclear, however, what prominent figure on the left will step forward to run a potentially divisive 2024 campaign. Previous progressive presidential hopefuls like Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., both have prominent roles in the Senate and are exceedingly unlikely to challenge a Democratic incumbent. It also seems far-fetched that a prominent House progressive like Ocasio-Cortez would decide to run against Biden.

“Progressives in the House, in the Senate, in the Progressive Caucus are not talking about primarying Biden,” an aide to a senior House progressive told Politico.

With no top-tier elected officials likely to challenge Biden directly, some on the left are looking at lesser-known candidates who could push Biden to the left.

When asked whether Biden will face a primary challenge from the left, one unidentified prominent progressive said, “Yes,” Politico reported, adding that it would likely be “someone like Nina Turner or Marianne Williamson. Doubt anyone currently elected.”

Turner, a longtime Sanders ally and former Ohio state senator, unsuccessfully ran for Congress in a special election last year against now-Rep. Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, who was heavily backed by the Democratic establishment. Williamson, a self-help guru, ran a fringe campaign in the 2020 Democratic primaries before dropping out and endorsing Sanders.

“I think the president will definitely face a challenger in 2024,” Williamson told Politico. “The yearning to make government actually work for the people again is so intense now, and yes, absolutely, someone will emerge to make a stand for it.”

Talk of a progressive primary challenger before Biden has even completed his first year in office underscores the growing discontent from the party’s left, and it appears likely that additional names could emerge in the coming months and years.

“I don’t think the country nor certainly not progressives in the party, who all tend to be younger, are going to sit on the sidelines,” former Sanders consultant Mark Longabaugh told Politico.

Primary challenge or not, Biden, whose approval rating has been underwater since the summer, has tried to shore up his left flank by acceding to progressive calls to extend the pandemic moratorium on student loan payments, and to support reform of the Senate filibuster in order to advance stalled voting rights legislation. The president has remained upbeat on the prospects of passing some form of his Build Back Better package, fulfilling his vow to invest in measures to combat climate change and expand the social safety net. Any potential BBB bill will require all 50 Democratic votes in the Senate — or at least one Republican vote, which seems even less likely.

There is also anxiety on the left that a failed challenge against Biden, who remains widely popular among Democrats in general, could damage the progressive cause.

“I think it’s pretty unlikely that a serious progressive challenger would emerge if Biden stays in the race,” Max Berger, a former top Warren campaign aide, told Politico. “It would so go against the sensibilities of rank-and-file Democrats that I don’t think it would necessarily be a great service to the progressive cause to have our ideas seem so marginal.”

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

18 comments

  1. Biden, straightjacketed by the DNC establishment, barely disturbed the policy manual. As good parts of the West Coast burned, he uttered pieties on climate change while refusing to saddle himself to the Green New Deal, preferring his own “Biden Green Deal”. He also rejected Medicare for All and held out on the issue of abolishing the legislative filibuster. On the issue of whether he would expand the Supreme Court beyond nine justices, he suggested the creation of a national commission. But in all this, a nod of approval was made to Trumpist rhetoric in an effort to lure back rust belt voters: the “Buy America” plan making US manufacturing “the Arsenal of American Prosperity”.

    The elections for Congress did nothing to indicate that Trumpism had been washed blue. Quite the opposite. The cash expended on attempting to dislodge various GOP Senate incumbents went begging. Lindsey Graham held firm in South Carolina; likewise Joni Ernst of Iowa. Susan Collins survived in Maine, despite the challenge from Sara Gideon, funded to the tune of $130 million. (Collins received $76 million.) The Democrats actually lost five seats in the House of Representatives. Such outcomes prompted Eric Levitz to remark that, “The 2020 election was likely a nigh-catastrophic setback for progressive politics in the United States.”

    The results reveal a reorientation in US politics that Biden’s team will struggle to cope with. So will some Republicans, who find themselves, according to Steve Bannon, architect of Trump’s 2016 victory, a “working class party.” Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri certainly thinks so, making the claim on Election Day that, “We are a working class party now. That’s the future.”

    Trump did increase his share of the vote, but the composition was not identical to that of 2016. An increased base among Latino voters in Texas and Florida was secured, suggesting the failure of the Democrats to convince them of Trump’s racist credentials. There was a rise in Black American votes for Trump, notably amongst males, despite the Black Lives Matter protests. Biden can also claim to have snared some former Republicans, notably of the middle-class, who found Trump a meal too rich to digest. Democrats seemed to better the Republicans in numerous suburban counties.

    The remarks by the Biden-Harris team on the occasion of declaring victory did little to suggest a patching up of differences, a desire to understand the voters who cast their ballots for Trump. The illusion of “people power” was promoted by Kamala Harris. She also positioned the Democrats in such a manner as to continue the sneer against Trump’s voters. A vote for the Democrats was one for “truth” and “science”. By implication, those who voted against the Democrats were ignoramuses. Identity politics was reiterated: race, colour, sex. The lines in the sand, affirmed again.

    Then came Biden, wishing to look more alive than not by running to the podium. Had he received a jab or two, a handy stimulant? Certainly, the commander-in-chief to be would have to dispel notions of lethargy and sleepiness. In animated, forced fashion, he claimed that a “clear victory” had been achieved. He spoke of an “outpouring” of joy across the globe. He promised to unify the country, again claiming that he was colour blind to “Blue States” and “Red States”. The electoral jigsaw suggests something glaringly different.

    He thanked the African-American vote that always had his back as he had theirs. Identity markers were carefully inserted into the speech: African-American, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, straight, transgender, gay. This would have had Mark Lilla rolling his eyes, having warned in 2016 that celebrating diversity is “a splendid principle of moral pedagogy but disastrous as a foundation for democratic politics in our ideological age.”

    There was the briefest mention to Trump supporters: “time to lower the temperature again.” He called for a “fair shot”. Enemies were not to be found, only Americans. Forces of fairness, science and hope were to be mastered. Scientists were to be appointed as advisors to the transition team to “turn around this pandemic”. He wished to “restore the soul of America”. Then, predictably, the words of his grandfather to him to “keep the faith”; and of his grandmother, to spread it.

    More than faith, kept or spread, will be required. What this election victory for Biden promises is a eunuch presidency, one weak and emasculated before it begins. Anticipate deadlock and the agitations of continued tribalism. Trumpism, maddeningly, will linger behind the curtain, ever threatening to bromide politics.

    https://dissidentvoice.org/2020/11/bidens-victory-a-eunuch-presidency-beckons/

    1. Democrats don’t have a left flank, and the former base was split apart some years ago, pitted against each other, middle class vs. poor. The Democrat Party maintains its rightward drift, appealing to disappointed Republican voters.

  2. “White liberals are just as corrupt and devilish and imperialist as Republicans.”

    https://blackagendareport.com/joe-biden-and-legacy-white-liberals-exploiting-black-vote

    Biden’s brand of American exceptionalism has run up against the general crisis of the U.S. imperialist order.

    “Celebrations of Kamala Harris and Llyod Austin never come with real policy proscriptions for the masses of Black people.”

    Joe Biden’s administration can be more aptly characterized as the “expect nothing presidency.” After defeating Donald Trump last November, Biden has ruled on a platform of “Build Back Better.” This inherently implies that the United States is on the mend from the political turmoil of Donald Trump’s one-term rule.

    A return to “pre-Trump” politics in the United States reinforces Biden’s assurance that nothing will fundamentally change for his wealthy donor base. With this assurance, an increasingly uninspiring yet emboldened American exceptionalism has replaced any attempt to analyze the current situation from a historical materialist lens. Biden’s mere presence in the White House is assumed to have cleared the racist, demagogic stain of Trumpism from the United State. The liberal class has reveled in its perceived victory over despotism and political treachery.

    “An increasingly uninspiring yet emboldened American exceptionalism has replaced any attempt to analyze the current situation from a historical materialist lens.”

    https://blackagendareport.com/joe-biden-expect-nothing-presidency

    1. The US is a corporate entity where every aspect of lives comes down to income/class. We’re 26 years into the Democrats’ war on the poor, and the overall life expectancy of the US poor fell below that of every developed nation. So, I suppose we all have our own problems and little to “rally around” today.

      1. Rolling strikes, hacking, disrupting them all. This is a matter of life (for the elite and the 10 or 15 Percenters) and death (for the 80 Percenters). Now, if voting for president really mattered in the USA, the rich and elites would have outlawed it a century ago.

        Oh, USA, America’s most dealy export — USA Democracy!

        https://williamblum.org/chapters/rogue-state/united-states-bombings-of-other-countries

        A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but doesn’t have an air force.

        The bombing list
        Korea and China 1950-53 (Korean War)
        Guatemala 1954
        Indonesia 1958
        Cuba 1959-1961
        Guatemala 1960
        Congo 1964
        Laos 1964-73
        Vietnam 1961-73
        Cambodia 1969-70
        Guatemala 1967-69
        Grenada 1983
        Lebanon 1983, 1984 (both Lebanese and Syrian targets)
        Libya 1986
        El Salvador 1980s
        Nicaragua 1980s
        Iran 1987
        Panama 1989
        Iraq 1991 (Persian Gulf War)
        Kuwait 1991
        Somalia 1993
        Bosnia 1994, 1995
        Sudan 1998
        Afghanistan 1998
        Yugoslavia 1999
        Yemen 2002
        Iraq 1991-2003 (US/UK on regular basis)
        Iraq 2003-2015
        Afghanistan 2001-2015
        Pakistan 2007-2015
        Somalia 2007-8, 2011
        Yemen 2009, 2011
        Libya 2011, 2015
        Syria 2014-2016

        Plus
        Iran, April 2003 – hit by US missiles during bombing of Iraq, killing at least one person

        Pakistan, 2002-03 – bombed by US planes several times as part of combat against the Taliban and other opponents of the US occupation of Afghanistan

        China, 1999 – its heavily bombed embassy in Belgrade is legally Chinese territory, and it appears rather certain that the bombing was no accident (see chapter 25 of Rogue State)

        France, 1986 – After the French government refused the use of its air space to US warplanes headed for a bombing raid on Libya, the planes were forced to take another, longer route; when they reached Libya they bombed so close to the French embassy that the building was damaged and all communication links knocked out.

        Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 13, 1985 – A bomb dropped by a police helicopter burned down an entire block, some 60 homes destroyed, 11 dead, including several small children. The police, the mayor’s office, and the FBI were all involved in this effort to evict a black organization called MOVE from the house they lived in.

        Them other guys are reall

      2. @Paul+Haeder
        “Terrorist” and “terrorism” are propaganda terms. As they say, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.

      3. @DH Fabian
        We’re 42 years into the Republican war on the poor. Ronald Reagan started this, and probably his greatest accomplishment was Bill Clinton.

  3. Well, I stopped voting for the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2016. I haven’t voted Democratic since then. I was once a precinct officer and attended 3 state conventions working on the Resolutions Committee.

    I don’t know who these “rank and file” Democrats are that still love Biden.

  4. I am one progressive who is, finally and belatedly, through with the right wing (dishonestly referred to as “moderate”) Democratic Party. The final straw for me was Biden’s decision to proceed with the murder of Julian Assange and, with that murder, also murder our first amendment freedom of speech and freedom of the press. I live in a backward, right wing, state (Oklahoma) where it is almost impossible to get a third party on the ballot. If there is not a progressive candidate on the ballot in 2024, I will not vote. I hate the Democratic Party almost as much as I hate the Republican Party. Both are enemies of the people.

    1. My Colleague, Kim, over at Dissident Voice:

      Progressivism is not rooted in politics but in principles. The well being of all the people is primary and at the heart of progressivism. People are not at the whim of markets guided by preternatural forces to bring theorized widespread prosperity somewhere in the retreating future. A progressivist society prioritizes meeting the needs of all the people first. There will no underclass and no people falling between the cracks. Under progressivism, there is no acceptable unemployment rate; workers will not be made to suffer because of economists’s hypotheses pinned to a target inflation rate or other recurrent crises within capitalism; the target will be no poverty; there will be no accumulation of material wealth confined to a societal few. Every person who wants a job will have a job that respects the dignity of labor.

      The needs of humanity are primary and not the needs of businesses. Humans are living, breathing, sentient creatures endowed with feelings. Businesses are human constructs. They do not breathe. They do not think. They do not have emotions.

      The right-wing agendas (for example, corporate globalization, neoliberalism, imperialism, and warring) have wormed their way into the fabric of most societies, abetted by the fact that right-wingers have gained preponderant control of the political processes in the major industrialized economies. Right-wingers promote policies that prioritize “freeing up” the economy for carrying out business. Since such policies cater to the interests of the owners of the means of production, there is a collusion of interests among capitalists and other elements of the Right. This collusion of interests has enabled the Right to be able to define (1) which parties constitute viable political choices, and (2) what constitutes Center, Right, and Left on the political spectrum, as per a uni-dimensional definition. More importantly, the Right has been able to define what constitutes extreme Right and extreme Left.

      Parties such as the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, the Democratic Party in the United States, and the Liberal Party in Canada — all of which are considered by progressives to be parties subservient to the corporate-capitalist model; hence, they are right-wing parties — are usually labeled by monopoly media as centrist or even left-of-center. The corporate media marginalization of progressivist views allows it to designate the Center as a point located toward the right of the political spectrum, where lesser-evilism thrives. In this simplistic one-dimensional representation of political ideologies, casual followers of the political order are prone to view leftist political groups as extreme by dint of their perceived distance from the Center.

      Through manipulating the perceived locus of political parties, the establishment of an arbitrary Center on a continuum derives importance. It is important because people tend to eschew extremes and conform to popular opinion. Given that the political scenario defined as viable by the corporate media is bereft of progressives, marginalized progressives face an uphill battle to disseminate their ideas.

      The corporate media shuns progressivist views simply because they clash with the corporate interests of the media owners. In this manner, opponents of progressivism have inverted the process of political designation. Right-wing ideologues, through ownership and control of the corporate media, have been able to turn leftist-identifying terms into slurs and thereby denigrate leftists. Political opponents use the leftist label to tarnish non-leftists. Thus, in the minds of Tea Partyers, one can simply defame president Barack Obama by calling him a “socialist.” No evidence is necessary to adduce Obama as a socialist (an extremely challenging prospect in the face of his steadfast toeing of the neoliberalism line), and neither is any evidence or coherent argumentation produced as to why socialism should be so fear-evoking. In the presidential campaign of 2004, Democratic Party candidate John Kerry abjured the “dangerous” labeling of being a “liberal.” The importance of labeling is manifest. In a world where many people maintain that perception is reality, labeling has importance.

      https://dissidentvoice.org/2013/01/what-is-progressivism/

      1. in USA the actual right wing are progressives. Geoffrey Gorer wrote: “the US liberal/progressive wants to preserve the essence of the past. the US conservative wants more progress. the European radical wants to hasten the transformation of the future; the European conservative wants to preserve the essence of the past”
        positions on gun control—opposed by the left in Europe –US progressives like the nazis want gun control. US progressives want community policing; European leftists want standardized national police, that is observed in most European, South American nations. us progressives oppose standardized testing in schools; European radicals want more rigorous testing. US progressives support racist CRT—outside of the angloshere the left in Europe/ Latin America despises this. US liberals have always been more pro-war than conservatives as the Marxist Richard Sennet, the Parsonian Philip Slater and William appleman Williams have all demonstrated….etc etc

      2. Ahh, what’s that movie, Dumb and Dumber?

        Comes to mind, and so does, ‘bot.” Either way, this is more than laughable.

        But, let’s stand together, brother —

        Chartist activist, Ernest Jones gave the Chartist movement a more socialistic direction and he too was committed to the wider international context of the workers’ movement. In The People’s Paper of 17 February 1854, Jones wrote:

        Is there a poor and oppressed man in England? Is there a robbed and ruined artisan in France? Well, then, they appertain to one race, one country, one creed, one past, one present, and one future. The same with every nation, every colour, every section of the toiling world. Let them unite. The oppressors of humanity are united, even when they make war. They are united on one point that of keeping the peoples in misery and subjection…Each democracy, singly, may not be strong enough to break its own yoke; but together they give a moral weight, an added strength, that nothing can resist. The alliance of peoples is the more vital now, because their disunion, the rekindling of national antipathies, can alone save tottering royalty from its doom. Kings and oligarchs are playing their last card: we can prevent their game.

        In yet another article from the ‘Peoples Paper’, March 3 1855, Jones explained:

        Let none misunderstand the tenor of our meeting: we begin to-night no mere crusade against an aristocracy. We are not here to pull one tyranny down, only that another may live the stronger. We are against the tyranny of capital as well. The human race is divided between slaves and masters…Until labour commands capital, instead of capital commanding labour, I care not what political laws you make, what Republic or Monarchy you own – man is a slave.’

        McDouall was yet another Chartist who recognised the international aspect of their struggle.

        Let all who have possessions in India, or all who profit by what you call ‘our Indian possessions’ be off to India, and fight a thousand battles for them as they like… but let them not mock our degradation by asking us, working people to fight alongside them, either for our ‘possessions’ in India, or anywhere else, seeing that we do not possess a single acre of ground, or any other description of property in our own country, much less colonies, or ‘possessions’ in any other, having been robbed of everything we ever earned by the middle and upper classes…On the contrary, we have an interest in prospective loss or ruin of all such ‘possessions’, seeing they are but instruments of power in the hands of our domestic oppressors.

  5. A much better question would be, Will the U.S. join the rest of the democratized world and replace their unrepresentative electoral system with proportional representation? Much more important than which corporate stooge gets selected as the Democratic presidential nominee.

    Another much better question would be, Will the U.S. stop its system of legalized bribery of politicians by prohibiting private campaign contributions?

    1. Jeff, Although it is good to ask these questions, I think that we know the answers. The Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is owned by, and operated for the benefit of, the 1%. It ceased to even marginally represent the people when Bill Clinton ran for his first term in office. It made the decision to stab the people in the back and go after the big money. In fact, it was that strong lurch to the right which caused the Republicans to become even more extreme right wingers. The Democratic Party will continue to do what the 1% instructs it to do. The result will be more and more extreme right wing policies, less democracy, more corruption and more efforts to control the people by destroying our civil liberties. I do not know any rational reason to think otherwise, even though I would like very much to be wrong.

      1. @Jim+Thomas
        I agree, and that’s my point. I couldn’t care less who gets nominated for the Democrats, because it will just be another corporate lackey. Nor do I care whether a Democrat or Republican gets elected. They are both the enemies of anything good, despite their differences on some issues.

  6. Biden’s primary challenger will remain himself. Unfortunately, too many Amerikans, not least of all the voting public, appear too mentally challenged to notice. If tRump represents the alternative again, the body poilitic should finally be pronounced braindead.

  7. “American politics is baby talk; a vaudeville act”. Neil Postman
    Artaud’s theatre of cruelty
    Bullwinkle would be as competent as Biden….the GOP will take congress this year; likely the ruling class billionaires that fund the dems will prefer the Florida governor

  8. Silly me, I expected more from the Scheer Post than second-hand, warmed-over, middle -level-politico prognostications about inside baseball… what a waste.

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