Super Tuesday did not unfold the way Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters had hoped. What had seemed like a promising night for the democratic socialist gave way, quickly, to a landslide for Joe Biden. But there’s plenty of fight left, and as of Wednesday morning, it looks as though he’s trying out a new strategy. Sanders has released an ad brandishing his ties to former president Barack Obama.
As reported by CNN, the ad’s voiceover knits together three separate remarks offered by Obama about the senator. In them, Obama praises Sanders’s authenticity and his ability to pass legislation in the Senate, and closes with Obama’s speech at the 2016 Democratic convention. People “want someone who is going to fight for them, and they’re going to find it in Bernie,” the former president said. Obama, of course, was not endorsing Sanders at the convention; as CNN notes, he was urging Sanders supporters to fall in line behind Hillary Clinton.
The new ad may nevertheless give some viewers the impression that Obama supports Sanders’s candidacy. Earlier ads produced by Biden and the erstwhile Bloomberg campaign encouraged a similar impression, even though Obama has remained outwardly neutral in the primary. The strategy made more sense for Biden than it did for Bloomberg; Biden can at least truthfully say that he was Obama’s vice-president. Bloomberg’s own relationship with Obama was far more tepid; the billionaire was an eager public critic of the former president.
Sanders, too, has had a somewhat fractious relationship with Obama, a natural extension of his general skepticism of Establishment politics. But that doesn’t mean the new ad is a bad idea. Late-coming Establishment support for Biden seems to have helped put him over the edge on Super Tuesday; if exit polling is trustworthy, he drew the votes of individuals who said they’d made up their minds within the last week. That support offers Biden the illusion of electability, even though serious weaknesses threaten the viability of his candidacy. To win a general election — let alone his party’s nomination — Biden will have to overcome concerns about the state of his mental faculties and defend a long career that bestows a great deal of baggage on his campaign. Polling, meanwhile, doesn’t offer anyone a credible reason to think that Sanders is the riskier bet to take on Donald Trump.
But to win the nomination, he’ll have to reassure older voters who buy into electability fears and who see Biden as a way back to the relative security of the Obama years. He’ll have to grow his coalition, in other words; extend it beyond the young, beyond the multiracial, working-class voters who support him. The ad is a sign that Sanders knows he can’t ignore the power of nostalgia — and that he’s looking to invoke it without changing his core principles. As tactics go, it’s smart politics, and there’s still time for it to work.