(The Hill) – Progressives are starting to discuss how to handle 2024.
President Biden’s disjointed fall season has inspired some on the left to think creatively about what the next presidential election could look like with a more liberal top of the ticket.
While campaign season is still nearly three years out and Biden is the unequivocal leader of the party, some progressives are already quietly predicting that if the administration’s poll numbers don’t improve with more deliverables, the grassroots and disgruntled liberals will seek another candidate to compete for the nomination.
Those calls could be even louder if Biden forgoes a second run.
“It’s definitely something that’s brewing under the surface. It’s called the anxiety of the American people, which is causing this scramble in political bubbles about what the possibilities can be,” said Nina Turner, a leading activist who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) second presidential bid.
White House officials have said multiple times that the president intends to run again. But others are more bullish about the prospect that a progressive will spot an opening amid criticism on issues both foreign and domestic.
“If President Joe Biden does not seek reelection for whatever reason, that makes this a totally open seat. Period,” said Turner, who is in the latter camp.
And she’s not alone. A sizable faction of progressives believe Biden should be doing more to deliver economic and social relief for working and middle-class people, and that those same demographic groups could be searching for an alternative well ahead of November 2024.
The very conversation could become a headache for the White House, which is still working to trumpet the accomplishments of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and to get the president’s Build Back Better agenda through the Senate after it passed in the House.
The chatter has only gotten louder in recent weeks.
As speculation has swirled that Biden, 79 and the oldest man to hold the office, may not run again, new interest has turned to Vice President Harris, who is still suffering from a negative report by CNN that her office is filled with personnel and morale problems. That fallout and poor optics on issues such as immigration have led to questions about her preparedness to ascend to the nomination if Biden decides to bypass a second run.
“There is a strong possibility, obviously, that the current vice president may seek the presidency again,” Turner said. “And there’s an even stronger possibility that others will be seeking the presidency, including people on the progressive left.”
Another prospective candidate, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is already causing uneasy feelings in some liberal corners.
Buttigieg was reviled during the 2020 Democratic primary by many on the left, who pointed to his work for the management consulting firm McKinsey and his moderate posture on health care as not meeting their standards. They were further angered by his reliance on wealthy individuals and corporate donations, in part, to fund his presidential bid.
All of that has caused some liberal Democrats to worry that Buttigeig, now in the administration, could throw his name back into the race if Biden doesn’t run. If that happens, multiple sources interviewed told The Hill, it would almost certainly create a new opening for a progressive to emerge.
“If Harris and Pete are viewed as frontrunners, there’s a lot of room for an inspiring, progressive alternative,” said one 2020 Democratic campaign aide, who asked to speak anonymously to give a candid appraisal.
One such candidate could be Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
“Someone like Warren could jump in and be a contender,” the source said.
Warren has kept a relatively low profile in the Biden era, generally wading into issues that fit her liberal economic worldview. Biden bypassed her choice to lead the Federal Reserve, Lael Brainard, in favor of Jerome Powell, a Republican who currently holds the position. Biden appointed Brainard as vice chair in an apparent compromise.
Warren, who also competed against Biden for the nomination, is just one of several progressive names who are beginning to be floated as potentially viable alternatives to the current president and VP.
Sanders, of course, is arguably the most prominent progressive in the Senate, and he never technically said he wouldn’t run again.
In May 2020, the Vermont senator said there is a “very very slim” possibility that he would give it another go, effectively keeping the tiniest of possibilities open. But sources close to Sanders, 80, said they don’t foresee that happening.
Beyond the Senate, multiple Democrats pointed to the House as the rich with young liberals. Within the lower chamber, several progressive lawmakers have seen their profiles rise in the first year of the Biden administration.
During the recent infrastructure negotiations, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and the rest of the Squad voted against the bipartisan package.
They claimed victory when the separate larger social spending package was ultimately passed in the House, arguing that their hard-line approach on the first bill moved the ball forward faster on the second than it may have otherwise. Other Democrats, however, saw their strategy as hurting Biden’s perception on the national stage.
Nonetheless, some left-aligned strategists see that coalition as the future of the party and said that voters are going to get used to more diverse and liberal faces taking on top roles.
“Old school progressives, old white liberals are a part of the coalition,” said Chuck Rocha, a former top Sanders adviser and strategist. “But the majority of the coalition looks like the Squad. It’s people of color, it’s younger people, it’s really around environmental justice, social justice, and, most importantly, economic populism.”
“In politics, there’s still two things that move legislation or campaigns: activism on the ground or mobilization or votes, and money. If you have one without the other, it won’t ever work,” he said.
Aside from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who have proven to be formidable with small-donor fundraising, there’s a question mark around the current slate of progressives who can raise the kind of contributions needed to fund a campaign for president.
“There’s going to be lots of progressives and people out there grabbing the mic and doing sit-ins,” Rocha said. “But how many of those can go raise $10 million over email to then really be seen as something that’s a challenge to the establishment?”