“It concerns me because he’s not a Democrat,” said Reginald Jackson, an autoworker who was waiting in line to get into the Biden rally, adding that he’d always been a Biden voter. “We’re the establishment. Him saying that, that’s kind of disrespectful. We’re the voters.”
The bitterness continued to spill out on Tuesday, after Biden said “You’re full of shit” to an autoworker who’d read a prepared question saying the former vice president wanted to get rid of the Second Amendment. Sanders’s campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, tweeted out a video of the incident, writing, “Oh no.” (Biden campaign aides, meanwhile, eagerly spread around the video, feeling that it showed the candidate having a direct and blunt conversation knocking down misinformation about an issue voters care deeply about.)
Sanders has a choice to make about the next few months. Does he stay in a race that is becoming mathematically impossible for him to win? If he does, does he continue ripping into Biden like he has over the past week, getting crowds in Phoenix and St. Louis to boo repeatedly at the mention of the vice president’s name? Or does he shift to a campaign that is more about raising issues in a discussion, and hope that whenever America emerges from its coronavirus crisis, events or sudden shifts in politics suddenly realign the race against Biden? What role does he take in responding to the chatter circulating among some of his supporters, and promoted by his aides, that Biden is in hiding (he isn’t) because he’s supposedly in cognitive decline (fueled by videos online showing Biden misspeaking and stumbling)?
Biden’s campaign aides are frightened that Sanders will decide to torch their candidate. They’ve been stressing about how to respond if he does.
Read: Joe Biden is the candidate of the resistance
Tuesday afternoon, shortly before the polls closed, I spoke with Representative Mark Takano of California, who’d just announced his endorsement of Sanders. He told me that he’d been ready to do it at the end of last week, after his district went overwhelmingly for Sanders in the primary, and had been waiting on the Sanders campaign to get a video produced announcing his decision.
“This contest between Senator Sanders and Vice President Biden is a good one. It’s important to have these conversations, this political discourse. We shouldn’t be in such a rush to get this done and over with right away,” he said. “We’ve seen dramatic turns happen in this campaign, in this race, and there could be dramatic turns that we don’t anticipate.”
Takano isn’t blind to the results coming in. He is aware of the attacks on Biden. But he has a different plan.
“There’s another way to talk about Bernie,” Takano said. Instead of slamming Biden, talk up Sanders’s record: voting against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, or fighting against President Barack Obama’s proposed cuts to Social Security, or shepherding through major Veterans Affairs reforms. “This is fair game. This is not nasty, dirty rhetoric. In a fair debate, if people can remind voters of the distinctions, I think people will see that Bernie does have a vision, does have core convictions, and is a strong voice who can defeat Donald Trump.”
The point of the campaign going forward, Khanna told me, will be living up to its “Not me. Us” slogan, even in what looks like the end stages of the race. “He cares about the policies,” Khanna said. “He owes it to everyone who has voted for him and the millions of people and the delegates to push for these policies, and to make sure that the platform reflects that.”