The left wing of the Democratic Party has been on a losing streak in primary elections. After the South Carolina and Super Tuesday votes, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., lost his front-runner status in the presidential race and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., exited it.
A progressive challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, one backed by both Sanders and Warren, narrowly failed on Super Tuesday too.
The congressional primary season two years ago was another disappointment for the left. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and her squad captured a lot of attention for winning as socialists in heavily Democratic districts. But moderates beat progressives in most of the primary campaigns of 2018.
Yet there’s good news for the Democratic left, too: The party is moving in their direction on matters of policy. Even if Joe Biden wins the presidential primaries, as now looks likely, he will be running on a more progressive platform than previous Democratic nominees.
It’s a platform more progressive than his record, too. Biden has always been well within the mainstream of his party, which means that he has moved left as it has. He used to be a strong proponent of the death penalty. During this campaign, he came out for abolition. For most of his career, he opposed taxpayer funding of abortion. But that position has become less acceptable among Democrats, so Biden flipped on that too.
Sanders has been dinging Biden for having supported cuts to, or at least reduced growth in, Social Security. That was then. Now Biden is for higher spending on the program, financed by higher taxes.
The former vice president has sprinted away from his record on criminal justice. He is tiptoeing toward legalizing marijuana. He has said the Barack Obama administration’s record of deporting illegal immigrants was a "big mistake." He is for a higher minimum wage — $15 an hour — than the Obama administration in which he served ever sought.
The Obama administration never came out for taxing carbon emissions to fight climate change, and the Hillary Clinton campaign rejected the idea.
Biden has embraced it.
In response to Sanders’s proposals for free college and debt cancellation, Biden essentially says, Me too, but less.
People who describe themselves as liberal, rather than as moderate or conservative, make up a larger and larger share of Democratic voters — to 47% from 27% over the last two decades, according to the Pew Research Center. If progressives are disappointed, it’s because their increased sway within the party has ratcheted up their expectations.
They aren’t getting everything they want on policy. Biden isn’t for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, outlawing private health insurance, or embracing the label of “socialism” — and Democratic strategists are glad he isn’t. But progressives are getting more than they seem to appreciate.
Conservatives had a similar experience in the Republican Party.
From 1988 to 2012, the presidential nomination always went to someone in the center of the party or to its left, never to someone right of its center. The party establishment fended off insurgent conservatives partly by dividing them and partly by placating them on policy issues such as immigration and abortion.
That seems to be what’s happening to progressives now: They’re losing the nomination fights but winning the policy struggles. It’s a pretty good trade for them, even if at the moment it’s not one that makes them happy.
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor of National Review and the author of "The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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