Deep Divide Between Progressives, Moderates Colors Democratic Race

by Jim Malone


WASHINGTON – The U.S. Democratic Party finds itself at a crossroads at a critical time in the 2020 election cycle.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, is the clear front-runner for the party nomination, despite warnings from moderate Democrats that Sanders would lead the party to defeat in November against President Donald Trump.

As Democrats prepare for the busiest weeks of the primary season, they find their party once again sharply divided between its progressive wing and moderates, reminiscent of the 2016 nomination battle where Hillary Clinton eventually outlasted Sanders.

Shouting and fretting

The liberal-moderate split was on full display during the latest Democratic debate in Charleston, South Carolina, broadcast by CBS News.

Sanders came under attack but defended the core vision of his campaign that seeks to close the vast gap in the country between those who are doing well economically and those who are struggling.

“That is not an economy that’s working for the American people. That’s an economy working for the 1%,” Sanders said during the debate. “We’re going to create an economy for all, not just wealthy campaign contributors.”

But Sanders got plenty of pushback from moderates who fear his nomination would send the party to defeat in November, possibly dragging congressional Democrats down with him.

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was among those sounding the alarm.

“If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump. Think about what that will be like for this country,” Buttigieg said.

Energized base

Sanders and his supporters argue he is succeeding because the Democratic Party has moved to the left since 2016. Sanders also points out that his victories in the early primaries and caucuses have demonstrated his appeal to younger, more energized voters, which he sees as the key to a big Democratic turnout in the November election.

More than the other Democratic contenders so far, Sanders has generated some excitement, says John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

“I think he has some strength. He has a good core of people who are going to be with him no matter where he is, and he is likely to do very well, either winning or coming in second in the states ahead. So, he is in a pretty strong position,” Fortier said.

But as Sanders’ prospects to be the nominee rise, moderate Democrats like Jim Kessler of the center-left advocacy group Third Way grow more concerned.

“If you add up the moderate votes together in the early primaries, more people are voting for moderates,” Kessler told VOA. “For a moderate or a mainstream candidate to win that number, (the Democratic field) needs to consolidate, in terms of who is vying for those votes.”

Republicans watching

Moderates like Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg believe Trump and his Republican supporters would be thrilled if Sanders won the Democratic nomination. George Washington University expert Matthew Dallek said they have a point.

“They would be able to exploit Sanders and some of his past positions like Medicare for All. So, I think it is a much bigger target politically for the Republicans to have someone like a Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket,” he said.

And with several moderates vying to be the establishment alternative to Sanders in a battle that could go on indefinitely, Fortier said Republicans want the Democratic divide to continue as long as possible.

“I do think that the president and his team are happy this week because there is disarray on the Democratic side,” Fortier told VOA in an interview. “And it is not clear who is going to be the candidate, and perhaps a candidate like Sanders, who would be pretty far left, would be the nominee.”

Writing in The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Karl Rove, a former political strategist for former President George W. Bush, warned Democrats that “time is short, and it may be that Mr. Sanders is unbeatable.” Rove added, “But make no mistake: With a socialist on a trajectory to be the Democratic nominee, Republicans couldn’t be happier.”

Key test to come

The Democratic field faces some key races in the coming days. South Carolina holds its primary Saturday, a key test for Biden.

Next week, on what is known as Super Tuesday, 14 states hold primaries, with a total of 1,357 pledged delegates at stake. Sanders is favored to do well in several of those states, especially California, which has 415 delegates up for grabs.

Analysts predict Sanders will continue to have an advantage in the primary race as long as the moderate contenders fail to rally around one candidate.

“All of them have certain advantages but certain minuses, as well,” said Darrell West of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “And I think for one of the moderates to defeat Sanders, the field is really going to have to coalesce around one of those individuals.”

The last two debates among the Democratic contenders have been hard-fought and even chaotic at times. Candidates shouted back and forth, while moderators struggled to keep order.

During the debate in Charleston, Klobuchar cautioned her rivals.

“If we spend the next four months tearing our party apart, we are going to watch Donald Trump spend the next four years tearing our country apart,” she said.

After Super Tuesday, the Democratic race heads to other large states with hundreds of delegates at stake, including Michigan and Missouri on March 10, and Arizona, Florida and Ohio on March 17.

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Photo “Bernie Sanders” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.






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2 Thoughts to “Deep Divide Between Progressives, Moderates Colors Democratic Race”

  1. William R. Delzell

    One thing we need to get straight is that the so-called “centrists” or “moderates” are really Republicans who MASQUERADE as Democrats in order to trick progressive and leftist voters into remaining loyal to them. This charade is nothing new. Harry S. Truman pulled this stunt back in 1948 by pretending to support the Fair Deal and Civil Rights, not because he genuinely believed in these measures, but to trick genuinely progressive and leftist voters into deserting Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party which could have easily tilted the election to the G.O.P.’s Thomas Dewey. Truman’s adviser, Clark Clifford, told him that we would need that leftist vote in order to carry enough states with major electoral votes. Clifford told Truman not to actually support these progressive measures but to give the APPEARANCE of supporting Henry Wallace’s DOMESTIC-policy agenda while simultaneously temporarily toning down his Cold War rhetoric WITHOUT actually repudiating his own hawkish Cold War policy. Clifford predicted correctly that most conservative votes would remain loyal to either Thurmond or Dewey no matter what. Thus, there was no point in Truman running as a rightist to woo them when they would not support him anyway.. He could not afford to lose the leftist vote. So, Truman successfully pulled the wool over leftist voters to get them to switch to the Democratic Party by the last minute. He also denied charges of being a war-monger against Stalin during the Berlin Airlift. He called himself the “man of peace” offering to send his then Chief Justice, Fred Vinson, to the Soviet Union as a peace envoy. Truman also took great pains to avoid any military confrontation with the Russians that could have jeopardized the air lift or that could have provoked a nuclear war–until after the election. When he got re-elected by a very narrow margin, however, he no longer needed his leftist and liberal supporters, and showed his “gratitude” by selling out to the conservatives. In less than two years afterwards, he would plunge us into our first twentieth century Vietnam-like quagmire on the Korean Peninsula in a cynical effort to rearm and militarize the U.S.

    Clinton pulled the same trick on progressive and liberal voters in 1992, only to stab them in the back by selling out to Reagan and Bush, Sr. Sadly, I was one of the suckers who voted for Clinton in 1992. The Progressives fell for both Clinton’s and Truman’s deceit. But, unlike most other true leftists and progressives of that decade, I refused to vote for him again in 1996. I knew by then that the Clinton’s were simply a carbon copy of Robert Dole with his prison construction, so-called welfare reform, etc. I try to learn from my previous mistakes.

    The chickens this time have finally come home to roost although it took them over seventy years to do so. Now, the “centrist”, “moderate”, or “blue dog” Democrats wonder why their own constituents have finally rejected them for either the Socialists or the Republicans. It serves them right! Sanders exposes these “moderate” Democrats for the Republican-lites frauds that they really are.

    1. Deplorable Bay Stater

      So apparently leftists aren’t very smart…which we already knew. If they had any brains at all, they would recognize the absurdity of their socialistic beliefs…and I’m looking at you, William, as Exhibit A.