Yes, Democrats are divided over Bernie Sanders’ revolution versus Joe Biden’s restoration of status quo Obama. Yes, they are divided over what that means in terms of policy, like Sanders’ Medicare for All versus Biden’s tweaked Obamacare.
But there is a deeper cultural gap behind the Bernie-Biden battle. And it will not be resolved by the primary fight, and perhaps not even by November’s election.
Some small indicators: Biden rallies often begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s a brief ritual that seems so basic it might not stand out in anyone’s memory. But it’s not done at Sanders events.
Why? When some of Sanders’ supporters say they want a revolution, they really mean it. Here is what one of those supporters — not a college student, but a 68-year-old man — told me at a Sanders rally outside Charleston, South Carolina:
“[Sanders] wants to make real changes to make America a good country. I mean, America has never been a good country, since the get-go. We’ve been brainwashed. Our founders are so great, right? George Washington and all these guys? What they did was they came and committed genocide against the natives, stole their land, kidnapped Africans and enslaved them, and founded our great nation. Our nation is rotten to the core. We need a good re-foundation. We need to have love among all people. We’ve got to start over again.”
That’s not a recite-the-pledge, hand-over-the-heart kind of feeling.
By the way, 15% of the electorate in South Carolina served in the military. They chose Biden over Sanders 54% to 19%, according to exit polls.
Then there is religion. In his successful forays into the South, Biden has laid on the religion to please the African-American ministers whose support he seeks. Biden’s victory rally in South Carolina, for example, began with an invocation. That would be unimaginable at a Sanders gathering.
The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney walked around a Sanders rally in South Carolina asking participants if they were religious. They weren’t. One man answered “relig-ish” — that is, kinda, sorta — but that’s as far as they went.
In the South Carolina exit polls, people who attended religious services once a week or more, or even just occasionally, supported Biden by a 56% to 15% margin. Voters who never attended church supported Sanders 36% to 24%.
Obviously the Biden approach worked better in South Carolina. But in states with larger percentages of woke progressives, Sanders remains strong.
A Biden rally looks like a Democratic rally. A Sanders rally looks like … something else. It features a motley crew of characters on the left — the fire-breathing pols, the old socialist brothers-in-arms, the self-described “undocumented, queer and unashamed,” the rappers, AOC, Ilhan Omar — quite a medley.
Of course, the Sanders coalition can feature internal contradictions of its own. At a cold outdoor rally recently, Sanders brought on the Texas-based rap duo Blackillac. They delivered the standard fare, and then were immediately followed on the PA system by Simon and Garfunkel’s lilting “America.” It was a jarring and bizarre juxtaposition, even for Sanders. But it represents two not entirely harmonious sides of the Sanders crowd.
Add to the Sanders-Biden cultural gulf the sense of grievance, dating from the 2016 primary fight with Hillary Clinton, that many Sanders supporters still feel against the Democratic Party. It used to be focused on Clinton. Now it’s focused on the party, but could easily be solely directed toward Biden, if Sanders supporters believe he is the party’s vehicle for stealing the nomination from Bernie.
Democrats are even divided about being divided. A recent Gallup poll asked the simple question, “Would you describe the Democratic Party today as united or divided?” Among Democrats, 51 percent said united, while 49 percent said divided. They split virtually down the middle.
Everyone else sees Democrats as deeply divided. Sixty-seven percent of independents and 78% of Republicans described the Democratic Party that way.
All the candidates, and especially Biden and Sanders, sell themselves as the one who can “unite” the Democratic Party. But the fact is, there’s a real possibility that no one can unite the party — and that includes their real opponent, President Donald Trump — as November approaches.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.