Teszler: Time to Unite

Progressives should throw their support behind Bernie Sanders.

by Max Teszler | 2/20/20 2:30am

Before the New Hampshire Primary, I enthusiastically supported Elizabeth Warren for president. But Warren finished a dismal fourth, even worse than her third-place finish in Iowa. It’s time for her to exit the race and unite progressives in support of Bernie Sanders. 

Warren has a unique opportunity to deliver on progressive goals; her endorsement could be the final boost of momentum Sanders needs to win the nomination. While the two differ on the details of their plans and their stylistic approaches, their overall ideologies — health care for all, a Green New Deal and attacking the power of wealthy interests — align strongly.

As it stands, Warren is running far behind. Sanders narrowly missed a first-place finish in Iowa and won New Hampshire, while Warren finished third and fourth, respectively. Her distant fourth in New Hampshire is the most concerning — she received under 10 percent of the vote and failed to qualify for any delegates. 

Watching Warren trail at the ballot box was tough. I supported Warren from the beginning, and I volunteered dozens of hours for the Senator over the last two terms; collectively, our campaign collected over 1,000 pledge-to-vote cards in Hanover alone. Even in Hanover, though, Warren finished fourth. I just don’t know where Warren can regain the momentum; Sanders is climbing in recent polls and is widely regarded as having a far better chance of winning the primary.

From the very beginning of their campaigns, both Sanders and Warren have centered their candidacies around broadly similar progressive agendas. Warren caught fire with her “I have a plan for that” slogan, publishing a detailed agenda that includes a wealth tax, ambitious climate action and campaign finance reform. I supported Warren because of the strength of her agenda and the belief that her carefully developed policies stood a better chance of being successfully implemented.

Sanders, meanwhile, has called for a “political revolution” — a noble yet vague aspiration — and his 2016 campaign was marked by a pronounced lack of detail in his agenda. Yet four years have made a considerable difference; Sanders recently published his own plan for a wealth tax and has strengthened his approach on Medicare for All by releasing a concrete financing plan. Sanders also sells his plan with more honesty than Warren — yes, middle-class taxes would have to increase slightly in order to implement Medicare for All. 

It was differences in health care plans that started to swing the race from Warren to Sanders, after a dominant summer for the Massachusetts senator. Even while volunteering for Warren, I was frustrated by her campaign’s seeming unwillingness to fully sell the benefits of Medicare for All and the ways her campaign seemed to back away from the plan; she suggested waiting up to three years before introducing a universal health care bill. Yet I stuck with her, because on balance I found her approach to be more realistic. Sanders can be needlessly combative, and I think Warren would have a far better chance of convincing an establishment Congress to implement her ideas. Behind the scenes, Warren extended olive branches to more moderate Democrats like Hillary Clinton — an action that enraged many Sanders supporters. In my opinion, that’s just how you build a successful coalition in a diverse democracy.

Yet the voters have spoken — and they opted for the Sanders’ “revolution” instead of Warren’s “big structural change.” Compared to the other candidates in the race, though, either of the two stand out as the clear choice for progressives. Warren’s voters recognize as much — recent polling show Sanders as the second-choice candidate for a plurality of Warren supporters, with over twice as much support as the next alternative.

In recent polls, Sanders has been surging; he opened up a 10-point lead in the first nationwide poll post-New Hampshire, has a 14-point lead in Nevada and is even narrowly leading Joe Biden by two percent in Texas, according to a recent poll. But one other candidate has been surging in these polls — Michael Bloomberg. His support has risen by 8.9 percentage points in a month in the RealClear Politics national polling average. I’ve been mystified by this surge — a former Republican mayor who championed racist stop-and-frisk policies should not be the Democratic nominee.

By exiting the race, Warren avoids losing face in a quixotic quest. Her supporters will naturally move to Sanders, based on current polling. And she could easily become the most effective surrogate Sanders has in store, campaigning enthusiastically for their shared progressive agenda. There’s even been speculation Sanders may name Warren as his running mate. I certainly hope that will be the case. Progressives have their best chance in a generation to make real change; or we could remain divided and let another moderate win.

It’s time for progressives to coalesce behind Sanders and nominate a candidate who views health care as a human right, recognizes the existential threat of climate change and will finally free the country from wealthy interests. By throwing her enthusiastic support to the progressive frontrunner, Warren can make a powerful step toward a kinder, fairer and more just country.