Louis Staples, The Independent
American socialists were given some good news this week when Bernie Sanders, hot off the heels of a stellar debate performance, received some of the most sought-after endorsements of the primary race. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, one quarter of “the Squad” – a group of four Democratic Congresswoman of colour who have been vilified by President Trump a number of times – officially endorsed Sanders for president and released a video explaining her reasons. It has been widely reported that fellow Squad members Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will publicly follow suit this weekend.
To receive endorsements from the youngest woman ever elected to congress (Ocasio-Cortez) and the first Muslim women elected to congress (Omar and Tlaib) is a major coup for Sanders, whose supporters are often unfairly and inaccurately characterised as being white, male “Bernie bros”. But in politics, when someone chooses to publicly endorse a candidate can be just as revealing as the endorsement itself. And the timing of these endorsements signals that, at this stage in the campaign, Sanders isn’t doing as well as he’d hoped.
It is unusual for prominent figures within the Democratic party to endorse candidates this early in a primary contest. As it stands, the primary is essentially a three-horse race between Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, but there are still over 10 candidates seeking the nomination. The bulk of endorsements – particularly high-profile, influential ones – tend to come when there are two distinctly different candidates remaining. But even then, it’s not uncommon for leading Democrats to stay quiet. Warren, for example, didn’t publicly pick between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016. Neither did then-president Barack Obama (despite the fact that he reportedly begged Clinton, his former secretary of state, to run for the position).
Political endorsements are a fascinating tool. If timed right, they can be a devastating blow to an opponent that creates a ripple effect across politics. High-profile Democrats, many of them Clinton allies, informing Hillary that they intended to endorse Obama was said to be the final nail in her 2008 campaign’s coffin, convincing her to drop out soon after.
The odd timing of these endorsements could mean one of two things: one is that the Sanders campaign desperately needs a boost. With his public health issues and stagnation in the polls, Sanders needs to show people he’s back in the game and ready to fight on. The other is that the Squad suspect Sanders won’t win the nomination, and want to leave some distance between now and the moment they throw their backing behind another Democrat – probably Liz Warren – to unite the party ahead of 2020’s showdown with Trump.
Warren’s place in all of this is equally intriguing. Known as the women with “a plan” for everything, she seemingly hasn’t bothered writing a healthcare plan because she’s such a fan of Sanders’. So she will no doubt be disappointed that she could not win the endorsement of these progressive Congresswomen. Still, Ayanna Pressley – the fourth member of the Squad – represents a district in Massachusetts, the state Warren represents in the Senate. Perhaps she’ll be able to convince her?
Either way, the early timing of these endorsements might actually boost Warren’s appeal as the “compromise candidate” between Biden and Sanders. In six months’ time, it’s possible the Squad might be publicly endorsing her to bring Democrats together. Bernie Sanders may well be the collateral damage in a wider strategy which celebrates his achievements before ultimately leaving him behind.
Regardless of what happens in the future, these influential progressives choosing this moment to throw their backing behind Sanders tells us a lot about what’s happening right now. Sanders choosing to play one of his trump cards so early in the game hints that he might not be happy with his position in the race, so he’s chosen to up the ante.
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