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USA after Trump: Why Biden will lose the left - and how that could benefit him


The Democratic coalition is already falling apart. But the loss of his former allies could even make it easier for Biden to rule - and strengthen his position.

The Democratic coalition is already falling apart.

But the loss of his former allies could even make it easier for Biden to rule - and strengthen his position.

  • Clearly, but still unexpectedly close, Joe Biden won the US elections.

  • But with his inauguration, Trump's successor will face new problems - the coalition with the left among the Democrats could crumble.

  • The editor-in-chief of

    Foreign Policy



    Jonathan Tepperman

    , explains in this article why distance to the left doesn't have to hurt Joe Biden.

  • This article is available for the first time in 


     - it was first published by

    Foreign Policy

    magazine on December 11, 2020 


Just a few weeks ago, the Democrats

joined forces to

help Joe Biden



US presidential election


But the notoriously stubborn party is already splintering in record time.

Hardly a day goes by without a new crack.


left wing

has resisted Biden's proposals for cabinet personnel faster and more aggressively than ever before with a Democratic president.

Apparently there is already one victim -

Rahm Emanuel

, who was reportedly being considered as Minister for Housing and Urban Development or as Minister of Transport.

And activist groups are now fighting alongside left-wing Congressmen to


anyone with ties to the

defense industry

(retired General Lloyd Austin, for example),

big business

(Jeff Zients, Brian Deese, and Adewale Adeyemo), or the aggressive and sometimes

extreme military

policies of past governments (Mike Morell) - despite the diverse backgrounds of many of the nominees.

Trump's successor Biden: New President must take the left into account - and is pursuing a three-part strategy

Meanwhile, other

progressive Democrats

on the Internet are


that the Biden government could be a lost cause even before it takes office.

And already on November 7th - the same day on which the US cable stations finally declared the election to be decided - the socialist magazine



: “It's good that Donald Trump lost.

But now the left has to change course immediately and oppose Joe Biden's government. "

This fierce resistance in the first month of transition, coupled with the persistent demand from top politicians like MP

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

, that Biden abandon his moderate stance and use his presidency to push through major progressive changes, raises an important question : Can Biden hold the forceful left wing of his party much longer?

And what does it mean for him, his


and the


if he loses the progressives?

According to reports, the President-elect is aware of the scope of the challenge and wants to

counteract this

with a

three-part strategy


This includes, on the one hand, that he rhetorically signals his support for progressive causes: On his transitional website, for example, the fight for

racial justice

and against

climate change is listed

among his top priorities.

Second, Biden tries to counterbalance the moderate political leanings of many of his cabinet members in his personnel selection by placing an emphasis on diverse backgrounds of his candidates (see Austin, Marcia Fudge, Xavier Becerra, Alejandro Mayorkas, Katherine Tai and Linda Thomas-Greenfield).

Third, he made sure

to select

a number of prominent progressives, such as

Janet Yellen


Cecilia Rouse,


Heather Boushey

, for key economic positions.

USA: Can Biden hold on to the forceful left wing of his party any longer?


Matt Bennett

, executive vice president and co-founder of the center-left think tank Third Way, told me, “Biden was a master at suppressing tensions between the left and the center during the campaign.

Now the question is whether he can do that as President. "

The answer to Bennett's very important question depends on which left you are talking about: the

online left

, the

left grassroots,

or the

left wing in Congress


Biden inherits Trump - but cannot hope for a "honeymoon"

As for the first group, the answer is arguably a resounding no.

The online progressives crave a fight. 


has stated that there will be "no honeymoon" for the

new president

and that "Joe Biden's new administration deserves no credit for good intentions and not a single day on which progressives patiently wait to see how it behaves."

Grassroots groups are also mobilized;

This Monday, the organization Code Pink warned on Twitter that they would “tackle” Austin, presumably because of his proximity to the defense company Raytheon.

In Congress, some left-wing politicians like

Senator Bernie Sanders

have so far publicly supported the president-elect;

a top advisor told me they wanted to give Biden a chance and a leap of faith.

But left-wing representatives in the House of Representatives appear to be less patient: Ocasio-Cortez has indirectly warned the new administration against


progressive priorities like

Medicare for All

and the

Green New Deal


In this respect, it seems inevitable that there will be a break in some form, both because of the high expectations of the progressives - "even if Biden implemented another New Deal, he would still disappoint the left because he is not a socialist," he told me

Historian Sean Wilentz

from Princeton University - as well as because of the likely distribution of mandates in the future Congress.

USA: Biden facing problems - even Georgia does not give the upcoming president a real victory

Due to the disappointing performance of the Democrats in the

November election

, the party only has a slim majority in the House of Representatives.

In the Senate, Biden's party managed a 50:50 distribution.

However, even this result is not a real victory, because cautious

moderate senators

like the

Democrat Joe Manchin

and the

Republican Susan Collins

have the decisive votes in most bills.

Far-reaching progressive legislative proposals have no chance.

Biden could still implement some progressive priorities through regulation-level changes and so-called

executive orders

, such as raising the minimum wage for federal employees to $ 15 an hour, student loan perks, and reintroducing the many

environmental protection

measures that Trump was repealing


But addressing the country's deeper economic and social problems - and there are many of them - requires real legislative solutions.

And there just won't be.

Biden's Presidency: Fragile alliance with left-wing Democrats - Congress could be a problem, Twitter probably not

Add to this Biden's own determined centrism and his reading of the

election results

, which showed a strong preference of the electorate for moderate positions, it seems inevitable that sooner or later the new president will turn against his short-term allies on the left.

But whatever?

Could an

angry leftist

punish Biden in such a way that it really harms him?

Again, the answer depends on which left you are talking about.

Even if historians like Michael Kazin point out that democrats are always more successful when they are united, a lack of unity does not have to be Biden's undoing.

First of all, he doesn't particularly care what people

say about him



, and his strategy of essentially ignoring the medium has worked well so far.

As for left-led street protests, it is hard to imagine that they will grow into proportions that could embarrass the government or deter voters - unless a major war breaks out, which Biden is guaranteed to avoid.

Conscious opposition from progressive organizations and members of the House of Representatives should be a major concern.

A lack of grassroots support for the president could mean that the challenges posed by the left wing in the run-up to the

2022 midterm

elections could increase, which in turn could make it more difficult for the Democrats to defend their own seats on election day or to win mandates.

Progressive opposition could also come at the expense of voter turnout.

A vengeful left could also try

to make life difficult for

Biden in



While progressives won't be able to pass laws the new president rejects, they could cause him trouble by

blocking bills

favored by the White House

 - particularly compromises negotiated with Republicans.

Some left-wing congressmen are already threatening

to do the

very same


with the

stimulus package

that is currently being negotiated.

Biden and the US Left: No “Bomb Throwers”?

As bad as it all sounds for Biden, there is another, equally plausible scenario in which the left rejects him, but the president can do just fine without them.

To what extent the progressives can really block moderate compromise solutions in the House of Representatives - if the Republicans agree at all, which is anything but certain - depends on how great their influence there actually is.

And it's difficult to measure.

The size of the

Congressional Progressive Caucus

is not a good guide.

Officially there are almost 100 members, but if you look closely, there are a number of moderate names on the list, such as MPs Lois Frankel and Hakeem Jeffries.

Although the majority of Democrats shrank sharply in the November election, which should increase the influence of individual dissenters, only a handful or two appear to fit this category.

And it is far from certain that even these progressives would dare

to vote

against important, if imperfect,

budgetary decisions negotiated with the Republicans

if they were to put ideological loyalty above the needs of their electorate.

As Third Way's Bennett put it to me, “In contrast to the Tea Party movement, which is simply


government, the Squad,” as


and her allies are called, “

care about

governance and people.

I don't think they will behave like the bomb throwers on the right. "

Biden first four years as US president: better prospects for mid-term elections than usual?

What about the mid-term elections in 2022?

Again, it is unclear how much damage even a very frustrated leftist could or would do to Biden.

So far, the progressives have made sure that only in reliably blue districts will oppose

moderate democrats in

order not to endanger their party's chances of voting.

If the distribution of the new

Covid-19 vaccines

gets off to a good start, the economy recovers, and Biden manages to achieve a decent number of successes with executive measures and in foreign policy (where he hardly depends on Congress), his could be his Popularity - already higher than Trump's ever was - will help Democrats actually win seats back in 2022, with or without the left.

In addition, given that the rhetoric of the left seemed to harm the moderates in tight races in the 2020 election, a split of the progressives could improve the chances of the moderate candidates next time.

According to popular belief, a president is usually punished in his first term in the first mid-term elections.

But this pattern only really lasts if the president's party controls Congress for the first two years and passes large projects that

go too far for



- so that they then vote to curtail the power of the majority party.

In view of the

inevitable blockade

due to the composition of the 117th Congress

, no one can credibly accuse Biden or the Democrats of acting too far in 2022.

Biden can still achieve moderate success - both in terms of content and politics.

After all, a fight with the Left could even help Biden politically: he could give him the justification to stick to his pragmatic course and avoid anything that might alienate his moderate base.

As Ross Douthat of the 

New York Times

recently argued, “He will not be allowed to reinstate the New Deal or the Great Society, but neither will he allow himself to be drawn into ideologically driven debacles like

Bill Clinton did

with his failed health care reform proposals or even Donald Trump in a failed attempt to overturn Obamacare. ”When experts or voters complain that he's not doing enough, he can blame extremists on the left and right for keeping his hands tied are.

To be clear, the best outcome for Biden, the Democrats and the country would still be if the new president found a way

to hold on to


left wing and the rest of his party

- by


enough to satisfy the majority of his supporters, and by using these results, as well as an economic recovery triggered with the introduction of the vaccine, to build the kind of popular support that would make it very difficult for anyone, left or right, to challenge it.

But with all the imponderables and obstacles that lie in this last sentence, it is important to recognize that even if many of these initiatives fail, Biden can still achieve moderate success, both in terms of content and politics.

And, given the incredible mess the country is in now, that's maybe the best one can hope for.

by Jonathan Tepperman

Jonathan Tepperman

 is the editor-in-chief of

Foreign Policy.

This article was first published in English on December 11, 2020 in the magazine “” - as part of a cooperation, it is now also available in translation to the readers of



Foreign Policy Logo


List of rubric lists: © Edward M. PioRoda / imago images / zuma wire

Source: merkur

All news articles on 2021-01-22

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