The New Hampshire primary has confirmed that the United States is on the way to a disastrous fall election. Unless a health crisis forces withdrawal from the presidential race, either Donald Trump or Joe Biden is headed for a second term. The electoral outlook is now dystopian.
President Biden’s role as party boss worked out well for him in New Hampshire. No doubt mindful that he finished fifth in the state’s 2020 primary with a dismal 8 percent of the vote, Biden directed the Democratic National Committee to decertify New Hampshire’s historic first-in-the-nation primary, and kept his name off the 2024 ballot. Yet pro-Biden forces ran a write-in campaign that got him nearly two-thirds of the vote on Tuesday.
The story might have been quite different if a credible progressive candidate for president had stepped forward to give Biden a run for his money. But the closest competitor, Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn. — whose overall record is to the right of Biden — finished with 20 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote. Progressive candidate Marianne Williamson, who has never held elective office or led a social-justice movement, received just 5 percent.
Faced with such meager opposition, Biden romped to victory in New Hampshire. Now, with many polls showing him trailing Trump, including in the crucial swing states, the Democratic Party is on track to nominate a notably weak candidate at a time when epitomizing the status quo is apt to be a losing proposition. Polling shows that fully three-quarters of the public believe the country is moving in the wrong direction.
The factors that got us to this abysmal situation are numerous, but any meaningful list should include the conformity of so many elected officials and activist groups who present themselves as progressive. For many, the temptation to make excuses for Biden and praise him unduly has proven too powerful to resist. In many cases, their real concerns about Biden have been expressed only in private — even after it became clear that Biden’s presidency was stuck in such grim grooves as “all of the above” energy policies accompanied by climate doubletalk, anemic responses to systemic racism, a belligerent foreign policy with scant regard for human rights, and rampant militarism.
As the Biden presidency deteriorated, the left could and should have felt an imperative to generate sustained pressure in the hope of countering these ominous trends. Yet by the end of 2021, the leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus had begun what became a pattern of unwisely deferring to the man in the Oval Office.
A turning point came in late 2021 when CPC leaders jettisoned their crucial pledge that the pending infrastructure bill would get through Congress only in tandem with the Build Back Better package — which, as my RootsAction colleague Sam Rosenthal wrote, “contained far more progressive priorities than did the infrastructure bill.” That power struggle “failed catastrophically for progressives, as mounting pressure from the White House and moderate Democrats drove the CPC to relent and vote independently on the infrastructure bill. Build Back Better ultimately failed to secure enough support from Senate Democrats to pass.”
The tragic Build Back Better episode foreshadowed further cave-ins, including premature endorsements of Biden for renomination. CPC Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., endorsed the president 14 months ago, less than halfway through his term, declaring: “He was not my first or second choice for president, but I am a convert. I never thought I would say this, but I believe he should run for another term and finish this agenda we laid out.”
Many others followed suit, thus reducing the chances that a progressive Democrat would launch a credible primary challenge to Biden. Even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — who was among the Squad members to vote against the move that sank Build Back Better (“This is bullshit,” she said at the time) — endorsed Biden for renomination last July.
The pressures on Democrats in Congress to do that kind of thing are enormous. Countervailing pressure from progressive grassroots activists and organizations is vital — and all too often lacking. As a result, elected officials who ostensibly represent the progressive base to the establishment are more likely to end up serving as representatives of the establishment to the progressive base.
Biden’s all-things-to-all-Democrats act has worn thin to utter transparency, and he has the polling numbers to prove it. The president is currently 17 points underwater in the approval-disapproval ratio among voters overall. Among key mainstays of his 2020 election victory over Trump — people of color and, especially, younger voters — support for Biden has plunged, reaching new depths since October due to his active complicity in Israel’s ongoing mass murder of Palestinian civilians.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
On the same day as his victory in New Hampshire, Biden again encountered protesters who disrupted his speech with cries for an end to the U.S.-backed carnage in Gaza. As soon as his speech began at a campaign event in the swing state of Virginia, he was interrupted with the shout “How many kids have been killed?”
At the rally, there was no letup to the outcries about Gaza, which included “Israel kills two mothers every hour” and “Stop funding genocide.” The Hill reported that “chants from the crowd” interrupted Biden’s speech “nearly a dozen times.”
Biden has stressed his ties to organized labor. But several major unions have formally called for a ceasefire in Gaza, including the United Auto Workers, the American Postal Workers Union, and the Service Employees International Union, which represents almost 2 million workers. Organizers among members of the nation’s largest union, the National Education Association, are now pushing for the NEA to also take a formal position urging a ceasefire.
Such direct challenges to Biden’s support for continuation of the bloodshed in Gaza offer yet more indications of how badly he is out of touch with voters he will need to win in November.
Thoughtful dialogue among progressives on what to do about Biden is now essential. Valuable ideas to consider include focusing on local and state races as well as giving priority to support for the most progressive members of Congress as they undergo big-money assaults from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and its reactionary allies.
In any event, candor will be necessary about Biden’s betrayals of key 2020 campaign promises and his complicity with the ongoing mass murder of civilians in Gaza. And candor will also be crucial about the very real threat of fascism from Donald Trump’s forces, who are intent on seizing full control of the U.S. government — with foreseeably catastrophic impacts on civil liberties, reproductive rights, racial justice, climate, the environment, voting rights, what remains of democracy and much more. Make no mistake about it: Trump and his top collaborators would like to bring fascism to America.