If either Sen. Bernie Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren had triumphed in 2020, they would have been undeniably the most left-progressive US president in history. Since their campaigns collapsed amid the chaotic tumble into the isolating COVID-19 pandemic, there has been endless—and persistent—arm-chair quarterbacking and online hand-wringing. Loyalist passions on both sides still run high more than three years later. It’s a difficult moment to glean any value or level-headed lessons from.
In this episode, William steps up to the heavy task of attempting just that: assessing what we can learn for future organizing and electoral campaigns and finally putting the debate to rest. To help him do that, he enlists Becca Rast, who was national field director for Bernie 2020 and now acts as managing director for Justice Democrats, and Max Berger, who served as director of progressive outreach for the Warren 2020 Campaign and more recently worked with 2020 Bernie Campaign Director Faiz Shakir to help develop More Perfect Union, a progressive communications outlet. They’ll size up the terrain of that moment and explain why they placed the bets they did, and then use what we know in hindsight to explore how we move forward in Left engagement with national electoral politics.
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Max Berger 00:07
I actually do think that it’s important for the left the Capitol left to have a theory about how we engage in elite politics. That’s not simply, it’s just a means of talking to mobilizing normal people. And unfortunately, if we want to play the game, we have to play the game.
William Lawrence 00:29
Hello, and welcome to the hegemonic con, a podcast from convergence magazine. This is a show about social movements and politics, strategy and ideology, the immediate present and the rapidly onrushing future. I’m your host, William Lawrence. I spent my 20s as a member of grassroots social movements, most prominently as a co founder and national leader of sunrise movement, the youth organization that put the green New Deal on the political map. Now I’m in my early 30s, trying to make sense of what we’ve collectively learned in this last decade plus of social movements and heightening social crises. I talk with activists and researchers on the left, exploring the guiding theme of power, what it is, how it’s exercised, and how its distributed. What has living through these last several decades of increasing political and economic turmoil taught us about the relations of power here in the United States and worldwide. And in what directions do these lessons take us, as we design strategies to build power from below to win basic rights, securities and justice? I’ve promised that on this show, we’re not just going to have easy conversations that celebrate our successes and make us feel warm and fuzzy. We’re also going to have tough conversations about our shortcomings, including conversations that sometimes we’d rather not be having. This might be one of those conversations. Ever since Joe Biden pulled ahead and triumphed in the Democratic presidential primary in spring of 2020. That progressive left has wanted to talk about something, anything, besides reliving that primary process. To be fair, there’s been plenty else to talk about. We had to do emergency organizing in response to the pandemic, there was the George Floyd uprising, those of us in purple states did what needed to be done to defeat Trump and remove him from office. And all of that was just in 2020 2021 brought an ongoing pandemic emergency and new urgent organizing challenges under the Biden administration. By the time most of us could catch a breath to reflect on the Democratic primary, it was so far gone as to seem almost irrelevant. By the time most of us could catch a breath to reflect on the Democratic primary. It was so far gone as to seem almost irrelevant. But we do need to talk about it. Carlos Rojas Rodriguez reminded us why in his interview from a few episodes back.
Carlos Rojas Rodriguez 02:55
I mean, after Nevada, we were like, how can we lose this, you know, we’re in a field of like 1210 candidates, Bernie is winning 70% of the Latino vote. That’s, that’s insane. But then the establishment realign really quickly, we gotta give them props for being incredibly disciplined, you know, for having Obama speed dialing everybody and whipping everyone in place. And on the left, we did not have the same day simply. And, of course,
William Lawrence 03:21
Carlos is referring to the fact that the two candidates of the progressive wing, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, each remained in the race, while everybody to their right consolidated behind Joe Biden. Regardless of how or why it went down, this was not a good book, and not a good outcome. For progressives. This was a chance to elect the most left wing president in US history, which either of these candidates would have been, and we missed it, we will not get another opportunity of this type until at least 2028. And when it comes, I don’t want to see a rerun of the Bernie Warren experience. I want us to have learned something so that we can do better. But what did we learn anyway? Let me begin by putting my cards on the table. I’m a Bernie guy. I supported Bernie in 2016, and 2020. And I think everybody on the left should have united behind him in 2020. And you’ll hear I still harbor some frustration with those who made a different choice. But I’m not someone who believes that the Bernie movement was or is the only true left. Some Bernie supporters were right about him, but had been wrong about everything else since 2020. And I know plenty of progressive and left wing people, some socialists even who made a choice to support Warren, because they thought it was the right thing to do. It’s a question of judgment, not a question of integrity or values. So the goal of this conversation is to judge what actually happened, how did it play out and what did we learn I’m joined by my really good friends, Becca Rast and Max Berger, who trusted me enough to join for this Conversation. All three of us have known each other for I think at least 10 years since we met in some of the post occupy Youth Movement networks of the early 2010s. Becca and Max both have really impressive biographies. Becca was a highly effective student organizer when I met her before taking your talents into the political arena and building political and social movement power in her hometown in central Pennsylvania. And now she is the managing director of justice Democrats. Becca, thanks for joining us. Thanks. Well, great to be here. And Max did critical work. When I met him he was building networks among young activists in the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street, especially as an organizer of the National Student power convergence and a founder of the momentum Training Institute. He was also a founding member of If not now, a group of young American Jews against the occupation of Palestine. In recent years, he also worked with Bernie 2020 campaign director if I use secure to create more perfect union, a left progressive communications outfit, and he’s now working with the democracy revival project. Max, thanks for joining us as well, my pleasure. So for today’s purposes, the most important part of Becca and Max’s BIOS is that Becca was the national field director of the Bernie 2020 campaign, while Max was the director of progressive Outreach at the Warren 2020. campaign. So let me just ask, like, what’s your vibe about rehashing the election? Just off the top, I know that this is something that some people love to talk about, and other people will do anything to avoid talking about. So where are you on that spectrum?
Becca Rast 06:38
I am happy to be talking to you all about it. I think there’s lots of good lessons to learn. But normally, the way the left goes about it is not the most productive.
Max Berger 06:47
Yeah, I don’t know if you guys have ever seen like wood getting fed into a wood chipper. But if you were to imagine sort of I was the wood. That’s sort of how I feel about it. But I also love well, and Becca a lot and I feel like some of the lessons of this past year, I don’t think I’ve really come through because the vitriol you know, it gets so tied to the specific candidates. And I trust that the three of us can get at some of the more overarching questions and underlying problems in a way that is not as tied to these 70 something year old folks. All are imperfect.
William Lawrence 07:36
Right. So let’s just start by going back a half step into the sort of pre 2020 anticipation. I think all three of us live some version of this political trajectory, where we were participating in Iraq War protests as preteens or teenagers, and then being part of protest movements like occupy the climate movement, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and so forth. And then around 2016, we all on our own trajectories became part of the current that was shifting from like exclusively outside street protest, organizing, and becoming increasingly political, getting involved with elections, inspired really, by a lot of possibilities that Bernie 2016 opened up. And so then in 2017, through 2019, we were all working from different angles on this inside outside project of social movement aligned political organizing, I was at sunrise, Becca, you were working on that kind of intersecting work in central Pennsylvania and Lancaster, and Max, you are early adviser to justice, Democrats and a lot of other people in this tendency. So like Trump, Trump was in office and 2020 always felt like this incredibly high stakes political showdown that was looming, that might be Bernie versus Trump, and was like, the closest thing we could have to socialism versus barbarism in an election in this country. And it kind of made all the organizing we were doing and all the effort we were putting in makes sense, because it was like the big boss battle on the horizon. That’s how I remember those years at least. And I wanted to hear kind of, what was the role of 2020 in your imagination during those years between 2016 and 2020? Let’s start with Becca,
Becca Rast 09:22
yes, I everything you laid out is spot on. I think I didn’t really believe in the power of kind of how electoral politics and movements could work together until after seeing the 2016 primary and seeing how motivated people were even in Lancaster, where I live by Bernie and how exciting that was. And I think, yeah, when Trump was elected, we started doing deeper local organizing here. And it was very clear that the social movement left had to engage in the presidential election because it was all that was going to be talked about politically for two or three years and felt like a huge opportunity to bring more people into movement work to define the narrative to bring more issues to the fore. And it felt like it was a crucial moment for all of us.
William Lawrence 10:07
How about you, Max?
Max Berger 10:09
Um, I think, you know, at the time, I was very convinced that we were sort of at the beginning of a new phase of American politics and the new era of realignment. And, you know, I look at kind of, you know, 2016 era as the beginning of that shift in terms of, you know, like, if you think about the rise of the movement, right, and its project of taking over the Republican Party, you know, people talk about Goldwater in 64 as being a very formative catalytic opportunity for movement conservatives to begin engaging in electoral politics. You know, I think that the 2016 election is something similar for the left in terms of the beginning of that project. I, you know, to me, 2020, to two things I was really focused on. One was that, you know, we’re like, say, five years into this program project of realignment. And I thought that, you know, our ability as the left to staff to have a candidate that we could competently staff with leftists, and to run a campaign that could actually then become an administration was very limited, and that we, you know, the scale of what we could accomplish, given how far we were into that 3540 year project was not everything that we were eventually going to be able to accomplish, right. Like, if we were talking about an election, eight or 10 years later, you know, 28, or 32, that we would then be at a place where the left the left could really take responsibility for both having a candidate of our own and a campaign that was really, you know, where we wanted it to be. And I think my biggest concern with 20, with 2020, was that we would end up with a Democrat who was insufficiently convinced by the new paradigm, right? That was that was insufficiently willing to invest in new public money for rebuilding the economy and rebuilding the working class rebuilding the middle class, we would end up with a more competent fascist than 24, who would end up having a real opportunity because they were in the midst of a recession, right like that. They were that they were running against the Democrat in the midst of a recession, and partially that just like embedded Jewish trauma of like, it’s always 19, you know, 33. But I think that’s also, you know, tied to my ideas about the project of realignment that I was like, very committed to at the time, at least, so.
William Lawrence 12:59
So let’s stick with you, Max, and just lead to the next question, which is why then based on all of that, did you decide that working for Warren on the Warren campaign was the best possible use of your skills and energy. And that was the choice that other people should go on?
Max Berger 13:16
Well, and you guys can can kind of have my back on the fact that I’m not retconning this, and I was saying this at the time, because I remember, well, you and I had this specific conversation. But it’s, you know, I, what I was saying was like, Look, we’re not at a point where the left can win a full on insurgency against the establishment, like, we just don’t have the power that the left can win, a consolidated against the consolidated weight of the establishment. And somebody like Warren, you know, is able to win over some parts of the capital D Democratic Party in a way that actually is really meaningful and significant. I think the metaphor I use the time is, there’s somebody on the inside to let down the drawbridge. Right. And I think at the time, I had an intuition that they would fight us, they did not like Warren, but that they would not nuke us. And I didn’t know what that meant, they would know, but that they would knew Bernie, and at the time, and I’ll say this, again, because you guys were there. And I’m not recommending, but like, after Nevada, I was like, I’m an idiot. I have no idea what I was talking about. I was so wrong. And then three weeks later, I was like, what I thought about it, I’ve been called it and, you know,
William Lawrence 14:26
I talked about ups and downs.
Max Berger 14:29
And, and I also think that and this is I hope, something that we spend more time on as well. It’s like, you know, I think there’s a real difference. I have always had a real difference with certain parts of the left that that tend to believe that we are capable of really radically changing the nature of the electorate and bringing in a lot of new voters winning over working class, either non voters or Trump people into the left as part of particularly as part of a Democratic primary. I have always thought that that is insane and At this path to 50% plus one and the Democratic primary is through, essentially, you know, college educated liberals. And that that isn’t the base. Maybe not our favorite people to talk to you, but that those are the people who will provide the there’s a swing constituency that could be one over to the project of social democracy, basically, that are available to us as voters and that somebody like Warren has an opportunity to, I mean, that’s, those are her voters. So I thought that that was that she was a better candidate to go up against the Democratic establishment in in the Democratic primary. And I was willing to believe that she was a weaker general election candidate. I thought that that was a plausible argument. But the argument that I would hear from the other side, that only a certain a certain Democrat was capable of winning, I was like, I think every single and again, this is not reckoning, I said this at the time, every single Democrat is an odds on favorite to win. And
William Lawrence 16:06
the You thought she was a stronger primary,
Max Berger 16:09
I thought she was a stronger primary candidate. And I thought that the differences, the impact of candidate effects on general elections, and incredibly polarized country is very small. So the idea that her so slightly worse performance in a general election was determinative, I was like, I think any Democrat can win. So she’s the best chance for the broad left, given where we are in the broader project of building power than us.
William Lawrence 16:39
Thanks, Max. Let’s put the same question to Becca, why did you think that Bernie was the guy and put your talents and energies in the direction of his campaign?
Becca Rast 16:50
Well, one, like it was clear that Bernie had the already had a bit of a base to write a presidential campaign off of and I think that actually really matters when you’re standing up A campaign for a year to year and a half. And it was clear that he could motivate both existing primary voters and not normal primary voters to turn out for him. And we saw that in 2016. And to me that showed a clear foundation that like, he was ready to take this seriously that he had the voters that there was a path. And in a really fractured primary, you didn’t have to win 50 plus one. And I felt pretty confident that Bernie had a clear path and all of the early states. And the other piece of it for me is that as an organizer, that’s like what I have in my heart, I it was very clear to me that Bernie was gonna have the most serious multistate organizing program. And I thought I believed and still believe that that is really was really crucial for actually winning the general election. And, and that Bernie was just as good of a candidate as anyone else. I tend to agree with maxim that like, I don’t think people to judge would have beat Trump. But I think there were a number of people in the Democratic primary that would it could be Trump, but I felt that Bernie really had the right coalition. Like I think people underestimate who backed Bernie and who was excited by him. And I really felt like I saw that firsthand in Lancaster of like, there was a wide array of people, race, class, gender, age that supported him in 2016. Expanding that coalition was clearly possible in 2020. And I was ready to be part of that campaign. And for me, a huge motivation was like, Let’s build more power through the Bernie campaign and bring it back into social movements. And that’s specifically why I was excited to take on the organizing role that I did.
William Lawrence 18:46
So that kind of gets to the second part of the debate here. I think there’s really two debates about these candidates. One is about electability, which you believe is more electable in the primary or in the general? And then, second, what is it that we actually want from a candidate and from a president, and I think that there were people who liked Bernie, tend to prefer his brand of working class politics and thought it was a more direct incitement to revolt, a direct challenge to the rule of capitalism, the political revolution, all this stuff, whereas, and people liked those effects and think that that will lead to more good organizing more sharper social contradictions, or however you would express it. And then the people who were in favor of Warren, prefer the idea of her as a president owing to what they would point out as her maybe greater competency as a manager, as a policy analyst, her better ability in some cases, to hire people for those roles and a perceived greater like kind of administrative capacity. And maybe that would also lead to more legislative success was something I remember hearing from Pro warn people. So I wonder if you could just speak explicitly to that question of What we want from a president? Aside from the electability questions?
Becca Rast 20:05
Yeah, I mean, I think for me, Bernie has been in office for a long time and proven that he’s an effective legislator and effective person with his constituents, I think he would have taken the presidency extremely seriously and built a competent staff around him rooted in his values and his policy positions. And that’s what I cared about, like I cared about electing a president who I was deeply aligned with politically, and who saw himself as accountable to social movements, which Bernie very deeply in his soul is. And you see that in the way that he shows up every day. And I think on the campaign was particularly exemplified, by the way that he continued to show up for labor unions and strikes and conflicts throughout throughout the campaign. But for me, like there wasn’t a question that Bernie wouldn’t like I was clear, yeah, becoming president is really hard. But he had been in the Senate for a long time and played leadership roles. And I wasn’t concerned that he wasn’t going to be able to do that. And I think for me, coming out of the Trump era, we needed someone who was going to reset American democracy towards a country that cares about the working class prioritizes, that actually kind of over turns quickly, lots of the stuff that Trump did, and I felt like Bernie was clearly going to be that person. Well, I don’t,
Max Berger 21:23
I don’t know. I don’t think that this is, for me, it’s not a very general, I don’t want to come down on myself. As a voter, I prefer what Bernie was selling. Okay. If I didn’t know any better, if I didn’t, if I hadn’t had some the conversations I had witnessed on the things that I witnessed. I would be like the Yeah, obviously, I would vote for Bernie. I don’t know how to explain this in the scope of the podcast, you know, but I’m like, Yeah, you know, and I think in terms of a general question as to like, what’s a better political orientation is like, not the most useful, in my opinion, only because it’s a it’s a, it’s a question about the balance of force, and sort of what you think is possible. I mean, to me, the the the crux of it is, I’ve heard this from people across the board on the campaign, they did not have an intention or a plan of getting to 50 plus one, they did not think that that was necessary. I think that that is an enormous strategic miscalculation, that was apparent from day one. And I don’t think that they had a path to 50% I cannot imagine running in a primary and not trying to get 50%. And I think that Bernie as a candidate was obviously an epochal, you know, movement generating candidate. And if the goal was to generate movement, that he was the right candidate for the moment. If the point was to generate more leaders who were more class conscious, who wanted to be more engaged in struggle, in an ongoing way, absolutely have somebody who is ideologically oriented and motivated in a way that is going to get other people feeling similarly, if the point is to find a candidate who can get to 50 plus one in the Democratic primary, then that probably, that’s a different set of considerations. And I think that the question for me, you know, primary is always going to be, who is the candidate 50 plus one. Period? Is that always preferable in all political instances? No, maybe not. Maybe that’s not what is the ultimate goal. But if you’re thinking about what is the goal of primary, then it is the goal, you know, so I, it’s hard for me to say in a kind of generalized way, if I think that, I also think I’ll just be more expressive about this in terms of Bernie like, I admire Bernie, my grandpa’s name was Bernie, I see, you know, I’m the fucking the angry, like, I love fucking Bernie Sanders. Do I think that he would have been a good president? No, I don’t think that Bernie would have been a good president. I don’t think so. I don’t think that Bernie enjoys a lot of the work that being a president entails on a personal level. And I don’t think it’s his strength as a politician. Like, I think that the thing that we all love about Bernie is that he fucking hates politicians. Right? I think I think the thing that we love about Bernie
William Lawrence 24:24
is, I’m not going to wish you happy birthday.
Max Berger 24:26
I’m not going to wish you happy birthday. I’m like, bro, what do you think being President is it’s all just eating shit like that. And I think Bernie, I think that there’s a chance that if Bernie, if I’m being honest, I also think that if Bernie had won, that there would be a chance that it would be an almost at the end a minority government situation, it would have been it would have been a victory that the left never recovered from in the same way that Corbin is leadership of the Labour Party ended up being an enormous setback for the left because the left overall was not prepared, even close to govern, and that that person Who was in charge of that, who would have been responsible for the project was not in a was not, constitutionally personally in a position to lead that project in the way that we would have needed them to. So I think that it would have been, I think it would have been a disaster. But
William Lawrence 25:17
I’ve gotta get back a chance to respond to that. I mean, I, she wants it,
Becca Rast 25:20
I hear you, Max. And I also think, like, there was a plan to win 50 plus one, you just didn’t have to win 50 plus one in the first few states. And I think what was surprising was the number of voters that Bernie and Biden actually shared. And so they were really contesting over a lot of similar people. And so I think if the establishment had given space for Bernie to be part of it, which we’ll talk about later, like, I think there was a real path for Bernie, I think he’s an enormously popular politician. He was taking this campaign extremely seriously. And I think it’s hard to predict what would have happened if he had become president, I hear your concerns, I think they’re valid. And I also think it could have inspired more faces than ever kradic party than we’ve ever seen. And like that would have been a huge victory for the left, I think it’s quite challenging to predict what would have actually happened if he had become president. And the fact you know, like shirt Biden has done much better than many of us on the left have expected. But can you imagine if someone had actually like, taken what’s going on with the working class right now, even more seriously, like, we could have restored even more faith in the party, and with someone who is willing to critique the elites, and I think that is what the party still needs, in its leadership. And you see it a lot of the candidates who have actually won Senate seats in the past couple of years, but we can continue on Well,
William Lawrence 26:42
yeah, I find it hard to I find it hard to accept the idea that Bernie victorious, wouldn’t I’m not saying there wouldn’t have been an incredibly strong reaction, but wouldn’t have had an ongoing extraordinary effect on the level of organization and popular mobilization. So in hindsight, I’m still a little reluctant to give up that argument. And that becomes in its own way, like, you know, an argument for the possible success of a Bernie candidacy or a Bernie presidency, let’s say, but the point about overall levels of under organization and the risk of a reaction that then ends up taking more ground. I mean, the point is well taken, I think that we have to admit that that was at least a possibility.
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William Lawrence 28:19
Let’s then just like evaluate the record, because the reality is that neither candidate got 50% plus one, either of them might have conceivably gotten 50% plus one, if they were united and one was campaigning for the other. But in practice, they they didn’t get there. And so neither ultimately turned out to be electable under the actual the prevailing circumstances. So can we can we agree on that? Oh, they
both lost for sure. Yeah, they
Becca Rast 28:46
definitely didn’t when
Max Berger 28:49
we’re sitting here, neither one of us in the White House. So I mean, it’s definitely you know, it’s that’s what happened.
William Lawrence 28:56
So, I mean, I’m gonna put it to max first. I mean, like, if the argument was that Warren is capable of building the sort of left liberal coalition, whereas Bernie is going to be limited to this sort of just rump left force, you can’t crack 30%. What was the conceivable case for the Warren campaign to be able to put together the left edge of its left liberal coalition? Because in practice, that was the crowd that stayed with Bernie pretty much all the way through?
Max Berger 29:26
Well, I think, how do I want to answer this question? I mean, I think that there are worlds in which either of them could have won over the others base. And there were different inflection points in the race in which I think that that was available in one direction or another. And without getting too far into the weeds about this, I would just say I do feel a little bit of a pox on both their houses in terms of the lengths that folks were not either willing or able to go to, to make that happen. So I you know, I think that is true. with directions, I think after Bernie came back from, you know, look, Warren was at one point very early on essentially the front runner, right, she was around, she was only around 25 30% ever, but she was in the lead. And she was really taking significant heat from the rest of the field. And that was right around the time that Bernie had a heart attack. And when he came back from the heart attack back onto the campaign, it was very clear to me and I would imagine that folks in the campaign in the Bernie campaign were a bit more clear about this. But from the outside, it was clear like, Are they as identified that they need to take us out in order for them to be the candidate of the left. And I think one of the big strategic differences between their campaign and our campaign was, for better or worse, I would say in certain times worse, our campaign was really oriented around trying to get to 50 plus one. And it seemed clear to me that the Bernie campaign was trying to get to 35% was their goal, and that they were jamming us from the left, and that they were starting to say and do things that were designed to dampen people’s enthusiasm for the campaign, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do in a competitive primary. Let me be clear, like it’s not like this was all comradely debate, you know what I mean? Like it was an open political competition. And our campaign really just did not know how to ever fight back against Bernie. And I think some of the things that happened late in the campaign that people got really upset about, part of what it was being motivated by on our side was, and I was never really honestly part of this. So I can’t really say directly, but was that just people are frustrated with having not ever felt like they knew how to punch back. But that’s all to say it, I think there’s a world in which if Warren doesn’t run, Does, does Bernie have a better shot at getting to 50%? I think maybe, you know, does Bernie also in that world, do a better have a have a better strategy for reaching out to Warren and the Warren constituency? You know, maybe? Maybe, you know, I would hope so. But that’s a requirement that didn’t happen. And I would say with the Warren campaign, you know, if in a world in which Bernie drops out after he has a heart attack, and Bernie endorses Warren, does Bernie does does Warren, you know, very quickly get to 40% and then have a real shot at the nomination? I think the answer is absolutely. I think, you know, if Bernie had endorsed Warren, at any point that he or she would have immediately become the front runner. So I think that, that my basic argument here is like the Bernie base for the left is the GOTV audience, right? Is the is the turnout audience. And the Warren bass is the swing is a persuasion audience. You need both there’s no there’s no ifs, ands and buts about it. So it’s like they’re both necessary. They’re both insufficient. They’re not purely translatable, transferable, but it’s, it’s a lot easier to win them over if the person who’s in charge is endorsed. So
William Lawrence 33:22
Becca, what would you say about first of all the I mean, I think we know the story of what happened when the field consolidated against Bernie. And as it happened, 35% wasn’t enough with the way that the field cleared out, aside from that basic observation, like kind of what what would you offer in retrospect about the the Bernie strategy, including how it related to either courting or not courting the base of people who were Warren supporters?
Becca Rast 33:56
I mean, we were definitely cornering the base of voters who were born recording every campaigns voters like we would flip people like on a field side, like we’d flip people from every candidate to Bernie so I don’t we weren’t just competing over Warren voters. And I think that’s one of the mistakes of the narrative is that it was like, if just if Warren endorsed us, and every single one of her voters would go to, like, the primary voter field is so much more like contingent than that about, you’d be shocked. Like, there’ll be people who would rank Bernie and then budaj edge, and then Buddha judge and then Warren lembert. Like, like it was not, it wasn’t people are not consistent and take like, REG and vote for and I think that’s an under told part of the story, especially in early states. I think in terms of what Max is talking about, I think, yeah, Warren was absolutely the front runner at the beginning. I think it was right that Bernie stayed in and that we kind of see saw how it played out. I think, in retrospect, I, you know, an ideal scenario for me would have been that Warren would have dropped out after the squad endorsed Bernie and was clear that he was gaining momentum. And she would have joined the team and helped him win. I totally understand why she didn’t do that. And I have like, you know, I wish she had, but I don’t think that it would have mattered. Like I think there’s some people on the left are like, well, if Warren would have just dropped out after Iowa and endorsed Bernie, then Bernie would be the nominee. I don’t, that’s not true. Like, by the time that like, it was already much more like what why Bernie lost was because every candidate except Warren consolidated against him, and like I, I’m frustrated at Warren, I do wish she had dropped out in the fall and back to Bernie. But I don’t think the way that necessarily she operated after the early states was like, that’s not why Bernie didn’t win. I think what happened is that Bernie could have had a much stronger, sharper message about why he was the candidate to beat Trump. And I think he had it he had the argument better than anyone, I think it would have come down to him and Biden, as the two candidates had the best message about why they could be Trump. And I wish we had been able to really see them duke it out. And there’s like a ton of factors why that didn’t happen. And I think the campaign could have been a lot sharper about that piece. And I think, like, fundamentally, the establishment consolidated against him, and I think they could have done the same thing to Warren as well. And I don’t think we could say that that wouldn’t have happened to her because they wanted they wanted Biden,
Max Berger 36:22
can I jump in on this? Because I think I think one of the things that’s also happening here, that’s somewhat of a just a maximum Bekka difference, but I think it is, in some ways representative of Bernie and Warren difference, which is that, you know, Becca is talking about this a lot from like a field perspective. And I’m talking about it a lot from a political perspective. And I think that that’s, I think, you know, Warren and Warren world kind of overdoes it with the like, insider free stuff. That’s, I think, a detriment to her as like a left candidate. But I also think that the one of my big takeaways from the primary was like holy crap, politics, capital P politics, endorsements, what politicians say and do matters a lot, a lot more than I thought to voters and normal people. And you know, that we thought maybe the Democratic establishment had lost as much credibility with Democratic voters as the Republican establishment had with Republican voters. And guess what, they had it, they actually did have a bit more juice. And I don’t think the story here is that, you know, look, the amount of the Democratic Party establishment consolidating in March of 2020 is extraordinary. Okay, it is extraordinary. Not that it happened. But when, and not that it happened when Bernie was going to take it, but but it didn’t happen 10 Or 12 Or 16 Or 18 months before, which is usually what happens. Okay. So they put got their shit together at the last possible moment. Right, the last possible moment, I think, you no look in a counterfactual in which Bernie drops out after the heart attack or doesn’t run. Warren’s at 40%. The differences and this is the newt versus fight thing. We don’t know for sure. Valerie Jarrett, and Obama people were making phone calls to tell everyone to drop out and endorse, but we’re pretty sure we’re pretty sure. Right? We’re pretty sure they wouldn’t have done that for Warren, they wouldn’t have done that. So the coordination problem would not have. That’s my contention. You know what I mean? That’s that’s the that’s, I believe that it could be who the hell knows. And I think in terms of the the strength that the establishment ended up having, if you don’t have a strategy to pick off anyone, like the thing about the, you know, we’re not getting Warren on board was the reason that Bernie last thing. I’m like, I on the one hand, I don’t think that’s true. I agree with Becca. But on the other hand, I’m like, well, Elizabeth Warren is the most left wing member of the Democratic Party in the Senate. Okay, if you as the potential if parties and independent Bernie is not a Democrat, I’ve been told over and over again, that that’s a real feature, that that’s something I should like about Bernie Sanders as a candidate. If he cannot win over the most left wing member of the Democratic Party in the Senate, he cannot win over a single Democrat in the Senate in which he has served for however many years. That is a huge problem as a politician. And I do think that that is that is ultimately, I mean, and I understand the Marxist take on this, I’m not saying that there’s, this is wrong, but I’m like that is ultimately a huge problem. For the potential nominee of the Democratic Party. It’s going to be hard if you can’t get a single, single, you know, colleague of yours in the in the in the institution that you serve to endorse you. So well.
William Lawrence 39:53
Let’s look at this from the bottom up then because we might say, Well, that just shows that, you know, I thought, well, she was selfish, you know, Oh, Bernie was gonna run she was not going to. So part of me still wants to feed that narrative in my, in my heart. That’s where I was. Because that’s how I felt back then is like, I’m not happy about having these two candidates in the race, like, I do think that there’s like a base of people who are being divided among them, I do think there are a set of organizations who could be working together, but instead are at cross purposes among certain progressive organizations who have endorsed Warren, and then, you know, a somewhat larger number that had endorsed Bernie. And I thought that all of that was unproductive. And so I wanted this not to be happening. And I was just hoping that in the end, there would be some consolidation, because with all the points taken that it’s the establishment consolidation, which ultimately was the deciding factor. And I accept that, I think there’s still some truth to the fact that all else being equal, we would like to have these respective supporting blocks that had gone first Sanders and Warren, on the same team, right. And so from the perspective of the, the, like, social movement organizations, and unions, and so forth, most of whom in my memory went for Bernie, but a few really critical ones went for WARREN Well, and a lot of unions went for Biden, and a lot of unions, and a lot of unions went for Biden, and some unions, so. So with that all being said, like, what’s the lesson for how we would seek to consolidate more proactively or find unity without necessarily being reliant on just like the whims of the candidates? Because we know that that’s not necessarily going to be to our favor and egos will get in the way?
Max Berger 41:37
Well, I mean, I’ll just say, I thought that consolidation was necessary. And I would have liked to have seen that happen as well try to make that happen. And that being said, I do think that, for the victor, in this situation, whoever that ends up being, that there has to be some forethought, that’s put into making a path for the vanquished to become part of the team. without it feeling like they have to bend the knee, which is a phrase that was often used in this context, and I thought was particularly unhelpful. And I think that if you want, you know, politicians are very proud people, they’re very egotistical they’re very into they don’t, most of them don’t think of themselves as movements, and even the good ones and end up thinking that they’re the movement. So you got to do the politics about it, there’s no, there’s no way around it. And without getting too into the weeds on this one that didn’t happen to the extent that was necessary for it to work in this instance. And I do think that one of the lessons I have is, you know, in my tiny little perch on the campaign was trying to do this when I thought Bernie might drop out, and that there might be people who were so pissed that for and that they would never come on board. But I was like, Look, we got to start thinking about this, that, you know, if he was incapable of coming back to the campaign after the heart attack that, you know, we really need to figure out how to lay the groundwork for the people who are diehard Bernie people to feel like they’re welcome here and to make that something that they’re able to do. And I think if you don’t do that, it just, it’s hard to cross the moat.
William Lawrence 43:25
But would you say, Becca?
Becca Rast 43:26
Yeah, I definitely think the birdie campaign could have been more welcoming to people what’s, but like the timeline between when Warren was not in the race, and Bernie with that was very short, like there wasn’t really a, a long time where that was happening. And I think fundamentally, like Bernie was able to consolidate a lot more of the left, because he’s, like, shown up for the left a lot more. And I like have I respect, Elizabeth Warren, I think she’s genuinely phenomenal member of the Senate. But like, she is not known for like a deep collaboration with social movements in the way that Bernie is. And like, fundamentally, he had spent decades building trust that she hadn’t necessarily done. And so it makes sense that the majority of the left consolidated towards Bernie, and yeah, and I wish more of a hat because I think he had he had shown his stripes there. But I also respect the work that you did max to, to move people to her side as well.
Max Berger 44:22
I do think there’s an interesting question for the left, about how we think about politics and how much we view the role of elite politics as being something that we need to figure out a strategy for and take responsibility for. And one of the things that I would say is an important lesson for me that I hope that like one of the reasons I agree to be on this podcast is that I actually do think that it’s important for the left the Capitol left to have a theory about how we engage in elite politics. That’s not simply it’s just a means of talking to and mobilizing normal people. And unfortunately, if we want to play the game, we have to play the game. And that’s just that that’s a lesson that I have taken away. And I would hope that that’s one of the lessons that people learn. There’s a way to look at this. And it’s just like, the entire establishment is corrupt, these people are always going to be opposed to us. And we should not at all think about how to win over any of these people. And that’s one approach to the problem. I don’t think that that is going to get us to where we need to go. And I would hope that that’s one of the lessons that people take away from this past cycle.
William Lawrence 45:27
Becca, would you agree with that?
Becca Rast 45:28
Yeah, I think somewhat, I think Max beliefs, morally politics, and I do, but I don’t not believe in them. And I think what’s, as someone on the Bernie campaign, I saw the Warren campaign, doing elite politics in states like they were hiring state directors and like, Super Tuesday, states way before anybody else. And it was clear that their strategy was, let’s build as many relationships with local politicians, local community leaders, let’s get their endorsements early. Like that was a core part of the Warren’s strategy. That being said, like Bernie did a great job at getting tons of local elected endorsers in every state and getting Bajur, union leaders on board and everything like that was a core part of his strategy. It was just more depth, and Warren went more breadth on the elite politics. And I think it actually is just a fundamental constraint of the length of a presidential campaign, that it’s very hard to do the depth without being part of the establishment really deeply. And neither of them were and so it actually set them up both in a challenging place, whereas Biden really just had the advantage of being the Vice President and having deep political relationships in every state, and that really ended up paying off for him.
William Lawrence 46:40
But I think it’s probably fair to say that among the sort of local endorsers that they were picking up the Bernie people, Bernie endorsers were the people who were more likely to be kind of like, the left most counselor, not even though like taking the hard votes, versus Warren being the sort of right bridge, you know, supposedly bridging left liberal, like kind of the right person in the right format,
Becca Rast 47:06
like a lot of non left like state reps and senators in South Carolina back to Bernie like, same in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada, like he was not just getting the left, like there aren’t that many leftists in office in America. He got like, maybe
William Lawrence 47:20
it’s like the people who are inclined towards populism would be
Becca Rast 47:24
somewhat, but some of them also were like, well, I left Bernie sat down with me and talk to me. And he cares about the issues in my local community. And we did it, which is like the same reason Warren got a lot of endorsements and states like it is like retail politics, even with the kind of local elite politicians. And Bernie did that, because he fucking campaigned hard in the early states, Warren had a strategy of doing that across many more states by focusing on hiring locally respected, state directors early, which was an interesting strategy that no one has really tried in a presidential primary. And it was interesting to see how it played out.
Max Berger 48:00
I think there is also a similar dynamic at play when it came to national politics and national national national figures, including the other primary candidates, for example, which I know for a fact that, like, our campaign made a conscious effort to like, build and establish relationships with and my understanding is that that’s not the approach that every campaign took. So, you know, I think that those types of things end up mattering to in ways that are hard to understand, if you’re not part of politics, why does the fact that somebody called me when I dropped out? matter, why does that matter? But it does, unfortunately, and if you don’t like making phone calls, you don’t make that phone call.
Becca Rast 48:41
Bernie also won tons of national organizational endorsements that weren’t like there was a serious political operation. But of course, it’s not catering to the establishment in the way that Warren may have.
Max Berger 48:53
Yeah, politicians, I just mean, I, obviously, the Bernie political operation was really good, I was up against it, they worked our asses and a lot of cases, but as you know,
William Lawrence 49:02
among the politicians, this is very interesting. I would love to plumb this a little further. But I want to try to take some of these lessons and project them forward. So if we can just say, painting with a very broad brush, and I appreciate you both telling me a few times through the conversation, like you’re oversimplifying it, it’s like so much more about the retail politics and how it went down and the actual, so that that is all very well taken. If I can paint with a broad brush, you know, we could say that the left was divided between a movement facing candidate of multiracial, grassroots progressives and young people and a more sort of technocrat facing candidate of educated white liberals, who are increasingly identifying as progressive and this is what we saw between Bernie and Warren. And we’ve also seen it play out in some of these recent mayoral elections in New York and Philadelphia, where we’ve seen similar coalition’s this sort of a The facing left and the grassroots left, be divided. And in each case, this has opened the door for a more conservative Democratic candidate to win. So what sense would you make of that? And what are some of the tasks before us in order to be able to actually assemble a left progressive 50% plus one type electoral coalition?
Becca Rast 50:29
Yeah, I think it’s, I think, in some ways, there’s less lessons to learn from Bernie Warren about this and more to learn from like Brandon Johnson in Chicago, because like, like I said, I don’t think Bernie lost because Warren didn’t consolidate by him, behind him. But if we do want to take some lessons, I think. And I think it’s complicated, like, if you look at Helen ghim, like she had better relationships with the local party than Rebecca Reinhardt. Is that what her name was the other woman? Yeah. And it was more about like, the charter school lobby in Philadelphia being scared of, of, of, again, it wasn’t about him not like having an amazing, like, she was a respect. She’s a respected politician in Philadelphia, who was like a part of the Democratic Party. And so I think fundamentally like, and I think we saw similar things in New York, like I actually struggled to draw the lessons other than, like, we have to start our campaigns early, we have to raise a ton of money, and we have to clear the field. And I think, sure, Bernie could have done that and done better too. And I think, but that’s just kind of a politics lesson. Like, the more you show your dominance earlier and enter a race early and raise a lot of money, then you’re going to clear the field. And I don’t, I’m not as convinced about the lessons to learn from Bernie Warren in relationship to these mayoral elections. But I’m curious what you think, Max?
Max Berger 51:59
I agree with you. But I also sort of agree with the frame of the question, more than you’re suggesting, like, I do think that it’s hard to win if both those types of candidates are splitting the fields. And, and I think that, you know, Brandon, who I think is, in some ways, intuitively, just more movement D character, but also I think, was a Warren and Dorsey like as an example,
Becca Rast 52:21
and was is a bit more of a yeah, definitely is a monk in
Max Berger 52:25
his own. Right. So I mean, it’s, you know, I think that, I think that, you know, in a way, this is a little bit of a cop out of an answer. But I do think that like having candidates who are able to an intention, they’re trying to speak to the entirety of that coalition, and setting up I mean, obviously, what Becca saying is right that like, if you can, from the jump, you know, show that you have reach across the breadth of that coalition, it’s going to be a lot harder for anybody else to jump in. I do think, you know, I know the New York example a little bit better than some of the others just because that’s where I live for a long time. And I would just say that, you know, that’s a good example of like, a lack of candidate recruitment, or a lack of like anybody who was really capable of demonstrating their ability to speak to people across the entire coalition that we’re talking about here. And I think somebody like Brandon is a really good example of the opposite of that, which is like a really intuitive and embodied sense of how to speak across, you know, the divide. So I tend to think that that does make a big difference. If you get into a situation where there is a good candidate on both sides of the divide, it’s tough. You know, it’s, I don’t know what the lesson is there. But if you if you can get to be specific
William Lawrence 53:41
about the things that make like Brandon Johnson, an effective candidate to be able to bridge, this divide that we’re talking about?
Max Berger 53:50
Well, I think if you think about it, in terms of like your base audience and our persuasion audience, it makes sense to me where it’s like, yeah, you want to be able to see the things that are going to motivate people who think that politics and the establishment are corrupt, right, you want to be able to speak to the the lived experience that they have of the systems not representing them. And you have to demonstrate that for people who think the system just needs to be more effective, or that if we just had better people in the system, that it would be better, or that they work within the system in some way. And so that they know that having somebody who’s good at it makes actual a difference, you know, that, that, that you can represent that orientation as well, and that you can bring in other people who maybe don’t want to turn society upside down, but do want things to work really differently. And so I think, you know, somebody like Brandon, I think it just is that right? Like both because of his relationship with the teachers union and his background as an educator and the work that he’s done in the past five years, so I think he’s, he’s somebody who I think even somebody like Helen again, I think is also an example. have that so it’s hard. It’s not just like Becca said, it’s more complicated than just find a good candidate who can represent the coalition. And try to make sure you don’t have competition from across it. But I think the New York example is the opposite of that, where there’s no one, there wasn’t anyone who really demonstrated that they could represent the breadth of that coalition.
Becca Rast 55:22
I mean, also, we haven’t talked a lot about race in this conversation. And like Brandon had deep relationships with the black community in Chicago, and also was a progressive. And like, we didn’t see that in Philadelphia and a troll Parker is black and a big part of the black establishment in Philadelphia, and like, Chicago and Philly have huge black communities were the core base of the Democratic Party. And we can’t ignore that part of the equation as well, when we’re looking at these, and I think was also a huge part of Biden’s victory. And so I think progressives continue to need to grapple with the fact that a lot of older black voters continue to believe and see themselves in in what we would call the establishment Democratic Party.
William Lawrence 56:08
Yeah, so it’s like if unions are a progressive constituency that has tended to lean a bit progressive left rather than far left. And black voters are also a core constituency that has tended to lean towards candidates who don’t want to turn the world upside down, like Biden, then a black Unionist, who can also appeal to progressives like Brandon, Josh Johnson, starts to look like a really good bet. Yeah.
Becca Rast 56:39
And that’s why we have to continue to invest in black progressive leaders across the country like it is crucial to the left success and something we all need to take very seriously. Yeah.
William Lawrence 56:49
While we’re on the topic, would you say anything about race in the 2020 primary, you know, Warren, I think made a pitch to the progressive intelligencia, which was partly about the idea that she could more effectively reach black voters than Bernie had been able to do. And this led to some high profile endorsements by black electeds and organizational fishers. But it didn’t really pay off in a lot of voters when the returns came in for Warren. So both of these campaigns ultimately failed the assignment with black voters who, overall, aside from young black folks who voted in large numbers for Bernie passed on progressives while while supporting Biden, so I wonder if you would offer anything on that, from your perspective on the campaigns?
Becca Rast 57:38
Yeah, we were just talking about this, right. Like, I think the kind of black older voters tend to vote with the establishment, I don’t seek to speak for them. But there is a way the party has been the Democratic Party has been the party stood up for black people over the last 50 years. And they’re looking for the candidate that represents that party often. And I think fundamentally, we have a lot of organizing work to do to change that, because I get it. And I see it in local politics here in Lancaster, and we see it in national politics. And you know, I think it’s on us to change the direction upon which things are going. And I think I was really inspired to see how many young black Latino Asian folks really turned out for Bernie and saw Bernie’s messages compelling to them, because we took that really seriously in our organizing work and wanted that. And I think we just have to continue doing the work to get there. I clearly neither ward or Bernie strategy was like the past to move older black establishment voters to vote for them. And I, and I get it.
Max Berger 58:43
Yeah, I mean, I’ll say a couple of things. One thing is just that black and Latino voters, particularly older voters, older voters, but not only are more conservative, in self identified ideology, which I don’t think matters in terms of what you and I think of as ideology, but it probably does matter in terms of risk tolerance. Exactly. And so, you know, I think that you need to show people a lot more people need to see a lot more of you. One of the moments for me when I was like, I don’t know about Bernie 2020 was when I realized what it felt like they were just going to run it back in and it was clear to me that like, you know, what happened last time in 16 happened, you know, the voters that he ran up against are in some ways, the same voters that he ran up against this time, and that there wasn’t a conscious effort made in the intervening four years to like, change the dynamic in a to begin to set that up, because it just takes a long time to introduce yourself to those constituencies for them to see you as being, you know, a part of them and just as a legitimate leader in the Democratic Party, right like that. That’s something that really matters to particularly older Black folks. And you know, so I think that what Warren’s approach was, which did not? I mean, let’s be clear, I’m not saying that this worked. But I think that there’s a question as to in the future, if progressive candidates were to try to do this, it’s it’s to me worth trying, which is to win over black elections. Right? Like, I think that that’s like, really, at the end of the day, like if if, and I think what the Warren approach was, was like, Look, if we do well, on these early primaries, that, you know, just like a lot of black voters did not warm towards Obama, even until he demonstrated that he was viable by winning Iowa, and but also concurrently, having done the relational work to lay the groundwork for endorsements from black electeds, that if you did, both those things that, you know, he thought was when he was able to really flip the numbers to like 90% support or whatever. I’m not saying Warren ever would have gotten there. But it was the same kind of playbook in terms of, let’s get some, you know, early primary victories, and let’s do the work of winning the winning, winning the endorsements from these from these black electeds. And part of the black elected story is the is just the Democratic Party story. And part of it is in this instance, like trying to be a little bit more race forward in terms of the narrative in ways that I think Bernie was reluctant or unwilling to do. Not even saying that was a strategic failure or whatever. But just like that, that’s a different approach. And I do think that that if if the, if we had won some early primaries that that probably would have worked, but we did. So I didn’t.
Becca Rast 1:01:38
I think the only other thing that I’d add quickly is like, I think this is actually like, building on what Max is saying like, this is actually a huge part of why like the viability argument matters, is because you’re not going to get kind of more mainstream Democratic voters to vote for you unless you think you’re viable against the Republican. And I think both Warren and Bernie had a lot of work to do to like, make it clear why they were the candidate that could beat Trump. And I think Bernie had a really compelling case that he could have made a lot stronger.
William Lawrence 1:02:07
Thanks, Becca. Thanks, Max. I’m going to move forward and throw in a quick bonus question I hadn’t planned to ask, but because I’ve got you both here, because we’re here in 2023. Because you’ve both done a lot of work to think about how to compete and win elections from the left, while also building social movement organizations for the long haul. I’ve got to ask you about the 2024 primary. And why you don’t think that there’s a candidate worth supporting or horse worth riding in the challengers to Joe Biden, or the idea of a challenge in the 2024 primary. You just gotta give it to the listeners. Well, people, this is where we are, I can’t ask about 23. We’re doing 24.
Becca Rast 1:02:57
I mean, just like fundamentally, there isn’t someone who’s gonna seriously take on Biden, so it’s not worth our time. Like, that’s my like, kind of pragmatic, straightforward answer is like, Biden is pretty popular, Biden has been bad on lots of things and done much better than we expected. And lots of things like, why would we waste our energy, when we could face another fascist in the presidency to like, take him like, to me, there’s just like, the value proposition isn’t there to do it? And we’ll see what happens in 2028.
Max Berger 1:03:26
Yeah, I mean, I think that obviously beckons, right? The second level of issue, though, is that we don’t necessarily have anyone. And I think that it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a it’s a generational issue, or it’s like, you know, why is it there any left candidates between the ages of 78 and 35, who are plausible presidential candidates, and it’s like, oh, neoliberalism? Oops, the days it is. But I do think that that’s a real challenge. And one that I don’t know if we’re going to be able to solve by 28. So let’s see.
William Lawrence 1:04:00
So what do you hope happens the next time there’s a open primary for President in 2028? And like, what kind of candidate would you like to see run? How would you like to see the organized left, such as it is engaging with the question of whether to endorse this is something that all of our organizations are going to be faced with sooner than we think? And so we’re gonna have to decide how to go about it. Let’s start with backup.
Becca Rast 1:04:26
Yeah, I mean, I’m not convinced there’s gonna be a good left candidate in 2028. I think that’s something I’m still thinking a lot about. If there is obviously like, let’s try to consolidate and make it happen, because we’re at the edge of a lot of crises right now. We’re in the middle of them. And I think if there isn’t a left candidate that honestly I kind of hope we save our energy in the primary and focus on beating whatever Republican fascist wins and then fighting like hell like we did in the Obama presidency to like push them to the left as far as possible. And we’ll see what happens
Max Berger 1:05:00
Yeah, I really hope that AOC and her team are thinking seriously about how to position themselves for 28 or 32. And laying the groundwork for what a serious presidential run would look like. Because I do think that if you want to talk about embodying sort of the intersection of the, you know, Warren constituency and their interests and the Bernie constituency and their interests, that she’s somebody who certainly could in, you know, certain it, she could, she could really do that, I think she’s got the juice. I don’t know if that’s something she’s interested in, or if they’re orienting in that direction. But I would say that forming the field, recruiting the candidate and doing a lot of the preliminary work that is required to stand up a presidential campaign and get it pointed in the right direction. It has its there’s an invisible primary that happens for years before the actual candidates launch. And my hope would be that the smartest folks on the left are oriented around getting us to the point where we do have a viable candidate, and that that person is set up in the way that we need them to be in a way that frankly, neither are the folks that we’ve been talking about where and that work, I think should start probably right after 24. I agree with Becca that it is not inevitable that that is going to happen. And it’s maybe not even likely. But it’s certainly possible. So I think that another lesson of mine that I hope that people take away from this is like you should always be planning at least one cycle ahead in terms of who you think should run and getting them set up to do so. Because if you’re in a situation where people the field is already made, the die has already been cast, you know, what you do from that point out is like, pretty marginal in terms of what what ends up happening. So a lot more high leverage to get involved earlier.
William Lawrence 1:06:57
It may or may not be possible, but is it desirable? And what would you say to someone who says, well, we’ve had our we’ve had our whack at it. We think that this kind of presidential politics, it’s it’s over our head, or it’s premature. And we just need to be concerning ourselves with, you know, building a social force from the bottom up.
Becca Rast 1:07:19
No, I mean, I think fun. If we have a candidate who is that is can do it can pull it off, then like, hell yeah, we have to try again, like, the fundamental reality is the President has an enormous amount of power in the United States. And if we’re going to do anything about what we care about, like that is part of the path. And I don’t think we should be giving up on it. Nor do I think we should just be like catering to like, mediocre candidates. So it’s about both to me.
Max Berger 1:07:48
Yeah, I think it’s also really about the development and maturation of our generation politically, and the emergence of enough people who are ideologically oriented and strategically, you know, skills based, capable of staffing running a presidential election, which is the enormous billion dollar enterprise, right. And I don’t think in in 2020, there were, you know, maybe between the Bernie and Warren campaigns, and whatever else we could have pulled in, there was maybe one campaigns worth maybe, maybe one campaigns worth barely, you know, but I think by 2028, we’ll be in a position where there are hundreds, if not 1000s, of people who could serve as like mid junior senior level staff on such organization and do a really amazing job. And that kind of stuff matters a lot more than if you’re, you know, people maybe realize if you’re not inside of it. And I think that that means that it’s possible in a different way. Now, to say nothing of the external conditions. You know, I think that the opening that Bernie and Warren, were starting to walk into the world has changed dramatically, but in ways that still favor us. Right. I think that the the politics that Biden has put into put into policy, are deeply influenced by the ideas that both Bernie and Warren ran on. And the Democratic Party establishment has, has integrated those ideas, but not even to the extent that people are still interested in further changes, right. So I think, I think there’s a huge opportunity and 28 and 30. And I would just say to the people who say that, we’ve done it, I would say that we took that that was the floor. Right? That was the that was the start. And we we can only get better at it. And I think that the opportunity is still very much live.
William Lawrence 1:09:46
Thanks, Max. Thanks, Becca. I’m going to ask one final question to each of you. Reflecting on this whole episode of your, you know, work and our political experience So, what is one lesson that is sitting with you? And one unanswered question you’re still wrestling with?
Max Berger 1:10:10
Well, one lesson, I guess, is that candidates are people. And they are, whoever they are. You can give them advice, and you could tell them stuff, but they’re probably going to do what it was that they were going to do before. And for better or worse, you know, that the there are people. And they need to be treated as people and thought of as people, by the people who voted for them. And the people who worked for them, and the people who try to convince them to do stuff and everything. It’s easy to forget, because they’re icons in a way or, you know, characters in a movie or celebrities, but they’re just fucking people. And I think the question I have is, I do think that the project of changing the country in the ways that we all want is really dependent upon having a at least progressive president, like really progressive president in our lifetimes, in the next 10 or 15 years. And I thought I had a lot of ideas about how to make that happen, have heard a lot of ideas about how to make that happen. And I’m confused as to how we make that happen. But I wonder, because it seems very possible. So how do we do it? I don’t know.
Becca Rast 1:11:40
I think the biggest lesson that I left the Bernie campaign with is like, wow, running a presidential campaign. It’s really hard. Like, like, I know, it sounds funny, but it’s like the time scale and the amount of money and the number of people involved, like it is an operation. And it is not easy. And like barely anyone’s done it really that well. And for many sides, and and it’s really hard. And if the left wants to run a president again, like we got to be serious about what that looks like and standing it up. Well. And I think about that a lot. And then I think in terms of unanswered question, this is something I’ve kind of constantly grappling with, which is like, how do we actually build social movements at scale to truly impact presidential politics in the way that we want to? And I think, you know, we can look back at the 30s in the 60s, and like, see moments where it really happened. But I don’t think like the outcome of this presidential primary had anything that had that much to do it with the social movement left. And so I think part of I think part of the equation here is like, if we’re going to elect a leftist, progressive to the presidency, like how do we actually build power, and by power, I mean, both like political relationships and leverage, and also like people power and people who see themselves as part of this. And we can’t just take time during presidential elections to persuade people about that, like it takes long term organizing, and I think we’re constantly struggling with how to really scale that on in a national way.
William Lawrence 1:13:16
Thanks, Becca. Thank you, Max. You’ve both given us a lot to think about. I really appreciate you both taking the leap of entering this conversation and hope you had fun.
Becca Rast 1:13:25
Thanks. Well, it was great. Thanks, Max.
Max Berger 1:13:27
My pleasure. Thanks, guys. I was fun to see you.
William Lawrence 1:13:35
That was Becca Rast and Max Burger. On the one hand, I’m really encouraged by the sense of determination that I heard from both Becca and Max to continue with an eye on the presidential arena, and the possibility that 2020 could be the floor, not the ceiling of our presidential ambitions. While we were lamenting the lack of a bench of left wing office holders, it seems very possible that the bench for presidential and other top level offices will actually get deeper over the next 10 to 15 years, as hundreds of recently elected progressives, mostly younger officials grow in experience and in stature. I also thought the conversation about elite versus mass politics was very useful, if a little bit troubling. I totally buy the argument that to get to 50% plus one in a major election requires both a mass base and the ability to win elite endorsements from political validators who can reach the constituencies that you can, but I’m less convinced than max that the pragmatic compromises needed to win elite endorsements and electoral majorities are usually worth it. At least I’m certain that they’re not always worth it. We need to figure out when these compromises are worth it, and why. When is it most important to win an election? And when is it most important to hold the line? It all depends on what we intend to actually accomplish in office and The role of officeholders in our broader strategy. These are core questions that much of the left is grappling with right now, and we’ll need to keep coming back to them on this show. This podcast is written and hosted by me William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh l Stroh, and it is published by convergence magazine for radical insights. You can help support this show and others like it by becoming a Patreon subscriber of convergence for as low as $2 per month at patreon.com/convergence. Mac. You can find a direct link in the show notes. This has been the hegemonic Khan. Let’s talk again soon.