An Open Letter to Bernie’s Supporters

The best way to lessen the disappointment is to work to oust Trump.

I’ve been living in a state of dread and disappointment for the better part of four years. It all started when Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, and then became even worse when Kamala Harris suspended her presidential campaign. She was my candidate and my source of hope for both unseating the president and advancing my values.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders likewise have suffered four years of disappointment and dread. Their frustration no doubt came to a head last week, when the Vermont senator withdrew from the 2020 race. For Bernie’s loyal supporters, especially those who have been behind him since his last bid, I share the following advice. It will, by no means, assuage your mourning. But it may help you reach a truce with the rest of the Democrats.

For starters, recognize that Joe Biden, like all of the former Democratic presidential hopefuls, would be immeasurably better than Donald Trump. There’s really no comparison. Your candidate made that clear this week, when he unequivocally endorsed Biden. If you are following Sanders’s lead, you should not only vote for Biden, you should leverage your social media followings, and even volunteer for him.

Like you, many Democrats will not see their first-choice candidate claim the party’s nomination. The supporters of Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Julian Castro, or Andrew Yang are all disappointed. As someone who grieved about Harris’s withdrawal from the race months ago, I know firsthand: The anger and frustration you feel right now are real, but those feelings will subside. All of us must now commit to helping someone other than our dream candidate.

Sanders’s supporters have, at various points over the last year, blamed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for skewing the process against him. That’s a misguided assumption. Sanders, in fact, took an active part in the formulation of the DNC debate rules. It’s easy to want to place blame, but even Bernie’s most diehard backers must realize that the DNC did not decide the nominee. The voters did.

The best explanation I can give for why Biden clinched the nomination, in a cycle in which Democrats had the most diverse field in history, is that Americans are scared. The notion of Bernie’s revolution didn’t appeal to a large swath of the electorate. That same fear of change likely contributed to the rejection of candidates who were female, African American, and Hispanic.

Unsurprisingly, most voters flocked to two old white guys—and, ultimately, the safer and more moderate and experienced of the two. That said, Sanders accomplished a lot in the process. No doubt, he moved the party further left on policies that progressives prioritize, such as health care and education. This will be a critical part of Sanders’s legacy. It’s something his movement can be proud of.

Above all, this is a moment for everyone who understands the danger of Donald Trump to come together. Anecdotally, I see this happening. I know a lot of Democrats and independents across the country, in red states and in blue states. All of them have said they will vote for the Democratic nominee since their preferred candidates dropped out. Even some former Republicans were prepared to vote for Bernie if he won the primary.

That’s because this election is bigger than any one Democratic candidate. More than anything, it is about the incumbent. Trump has stacked the federal courts with super conservative and young, white male judges at a faster pace than any president before him, thanks to the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If Trump holds office for four more years, any chance of climate progress, health care progress, economic parity, gender equity and women’s rights progress—all of which are essential to Bernie’s supporters —will be lost for a generation. Anyone who cares about the Bernie agenda has to be committed to stopping the Republicans from filling the federal courts with conservatives who are appointed for life.

Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer will retire soon. Even worse, something could happen to them. Ginsberg is 87. Breyer is 81. That means the president could have two open seats to fill on the Supreme Court that are currently occupied by liberal judges. If those seats are filled by Trump, the successors will be young, white and conservative. They will have a gargantuan impact on American law and society for decades. All of the policy issues that Bernie supporters care deeply about will be non-starters for at least a generation.

Biden has said he will likely serve only one term. Democrats, therefore, will be able to put forth a more liberal candidate in 2024. Those of us who desperately wanted a female president can take some solace in that four-year outlook. It’s not ideal, but it’s really not that far off.

In the meantime, Biden would hit the ground running quickly as president. For example, he will have the benefit of someone like Obama’s top pandemic czar Ron Klain, who was extremely successful in managing the Ebola epidemic. Other former Obama and Biden advisors whom Biden selects can jump in and clean up efficiently because they already know how everything works. They can try to right the ship for all Americans.

At the same time, Sanders himself and the more progressive wing of the party can influence him and push him leftward.

Boring and stabilizing will be good enough. In fact, it will be necessary. We will once again cherish waking up on Saturday mornings without worrying what our president has done while we slept.

Personally, I wanted Hillary in 2016 and Kamala in 2020. But I will now do everything I can for Biden. I don’t have to be over the moon about Joe, because I’m ecstatic about ousting Trump. That old cliché turns out to be true: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Democrats, many independents, and a fair number of unhappy Republicans have one mission: to get Trump out of office. We’ve all made the decision to throw our support, resources, and time behind Biden because we know this isn’t about our first choice, nor is it about us as individuals. It’s about the nation.

This week, Bernie made clear that he will support Joe. More importantly, he said he wants his supporters to do the same. Indeed, Sanders has gone as far as to advise his supporters that it would be “irresponsible” for them to oppose Biden. Likewise, Biden has welcomed Sanders’s supporters into the fold. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship. For the love of our country, it’s time to unify.

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Julie Rodin Zebrak

Julie Rodin Zebrak is the Washington Monthly's director of digital strategy and outreach. She is a veteran attorney with nearly 20 years of experience at the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice, and the founder and CEO of Yes Moms Can.