It’s an indisputable fact that the Democratic Party has moved left in recent years. Now, the party is about to choose a standard bearer in the person of former Vice President Joe Biden, and what has become clear is that Biden has not only shifted left with his party over the years, he has taken significant leftward steps in recent weeks.
First, for years, Biden has defended the Obama administration’s record on deportations against those on the left who criticized Obama as the “deporter in chief.” Then came last month’s Nevada caucuses. After ugly losses in Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden was struggling for life in Nevada, and trying to appeal to the Hispanic voters who made up a substantial portion of state Democrats.
All of a sudden, Biden backtracked on the Obama deportations he used to defend. “There were too many,” Biden told Univision’s Jorge Ramos. “I saw the pain in the eyes of so many people who saw their families being deported. I know what it’s like to lose family members. It was painful.”
As the Nevada vote neared, Biden promised that if he became president, he would not deport anyone — no one, under any circumstances — during his first 100 days in office. After that, Biden said, he would deport only those who have committed felonies in the United States. Biden repeated the pledge at his recent debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders, his last remaining rival for the nomination.
A second example. Just before the debate, Biden announced he was adopting some of Sanders’ positions on free college for all. “Today, Biden is adding to his agenda by adopting Sen. Sanders’ proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000,” the campaign said.
Biden’s proposal was modeled on a bill Sanders offered in 2017, and that was also part of Sanders’ 2016 battle with Hillary Clinton. Sanders has since moved on — he now proposes free tuition for everyone, regardless of income. Accordingly, Sanders rejected Biden’s move. “It’s great that Joe Biden is now supporting a position that was in the Democratic platform four years ago,” Sanders said in a statement released just before the debate. “Now we have to go much further.” Still, Biden had moved unmistakably toward Sanders.
A third example. Back in the 2000s, Biden, then a senator, fought with Elizabeth Warren, then a Harvard professor, over the issue of bankruptcy. She wanted to make it less wearing on those who have to declare bankruptcy by, among other things, allowing them to include student debt in their bankruptcy filing. Biden opposed the idea. Years later, Warren made a similar plan part of her presidential campaign before dropping out after the Super Tuesday primaries earlier this month.
Now, with Warren withholding her endorsement, Biden is moving Warren’s way. Before the debate, he announced that he “agrees firmly with Sen. Warren that we need to fundamentally reshape our bankruptcy system.” Yet another leftward move.
Is Biden undergoing some sort of late-in-life reassessment of his beliefs? Perhaps, but it appears more likely his shifts came for baldly political reasons. He needed Hispanic votes in Nevada. (By the way, even with his no-deportations pledge, he didn’t get them; Sanders beat him 50% to 17% among Hispanic voters.) He needs Sanders’ support, and his voters, when the Vermont senator finally gives up the race. He needs Warren’s support, too.
So Biden’s positions on three big issues — immigration, college education and bankruptcy — changed virtually overnight to fit the political requirements of the late stages of the 2020 Democratic primary. And all involved a move to the left. For months, Biden dominated the so-called “centrist” or “moderate” lane of the Democratic race. But now there is no longer a Democratic race. Even as commentators touted his centrism, Biden strategically moved left to consolidate the support he needed for the nomination.
Soon he will have to come up with the version of Joe Biden who will run in the general election. At the moment, all politics, as all life in the United States, is consumed with coronavirus. But at some point, the virus will subside, and the campaign will re-emerge. President Trump will fiercely attack Biden for moving left, leaving voters to decide whether Biden really is the centrist he was made out to be.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.