As it did in 2016, the Democratic party this year flirted with a socialist presidential candidate, but ultimately rejected him for a pragmatist. Bernie Sanders’s quest for the nomination seems doomed. The party almost certainly will select Joe Biden.
The case for nominating Biden was three-fold. First, he was Barack Obama’s vice president. This was probably important to black voters, and it was black voters who carried Biden to victory in South Carolina, thereby turning the race in his favor.
Second, Biden isn’t a socialist. It may still be the case that a majority of Democratic voters aren’t quite down with socialism.
Third, Biden was viewed as more electable than Sanders. This, I think, is the main reason why Biden overtook Sanders. Polls have suggested that perceived ability to defeat President Trump is more important to Democratic voters than nominating someone with whom they consistently agree on the issues.
With this in mind, let’s look ahead to 2024. If Biden is the president, the nominee will likely be Biden or his vice president.
But suppose Biden loses this year. In this scenario, which seems more likely than not, there’s a good chance that the Dems will nominate a socialist in 2024.
Why? Mainly because non-socialist contenders will be far less able to pitch themselves as “electable” because of their “moderation.” In addition, unless Michelle Obama runs, it’s unlikely that there will be a non-socialist in the field with strong ties to Barack Obama.
Thus, of the three factors cited above as explanations for Biden’s victory, only the second — a disinclination towards socialism — will militate against nominating a socialist in 2024 if Biden loses. It’s unclear whether this factor, standing alone, would have been weighty enough to prevent Sanders’s nomination this year.
The left may also be able, in 2024, to find a more attractive socialist than Bernie Sanders — someone who can present a similar message in a less threatening way. (By the same token, though, the leading non-socialist Democratic contender in 2024 might well be more appealing than Joe Biden.) I don’t know the leftist landscape well enough to say who that candidate might be. I don’t think it will be Elizabeth Warren or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Most likely, it will be someone who is below my radar now.
Taking all of this into consideration, I think it’s as likely as not that if Biden loses this year, the Democrats will nominate a socialist, or someone very close to being a socialist, in 2024. If Biden loses big, I think it’s more likely than not that the Dems will nominate such a candidate next time.
It’s probably foolish of me to speculate about 2024. After all, it has been hard enough accurately to predict the 2020 Democratic race. Nonetheless, it seems clear that if Biden loses to Trump, the logic in favor of the Democrats nominating a socialist in 2024 will be considerably more forceful than it was this year.