Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden in a split-screen livestream video on Monday afternoon, just five days after suspending his own presidential campaign. This time last week, Sanders was still under familiar pressure to quit being such a selfish egotist, drop out, and fall in line behind the presumptive nominee, along with a new wrinkle of 2020-specific pressure to not be personally responsible for killing everyone who would wait in line to vote in a primary. A few days later, he’s endorsed Biden before either Elizabeth Warren or Barack Obama did. With Sanders himself out of the way, the professional chider class will now be able to target individual Sanders supporters who aren’t yet sold on Biden, one by one.
The endorsement was set up as a casual, spontaneous conversation in the way that a table read of a screenplay is. After Sanders gave his endorsement, Biden expressed his appreciation and then asked Sanders, “Do you have any questions for me, Bernie, at all?”
“I did, Joe,” Sanders said. Does Biden support a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour?
“Bernie, I am extremely supportive of that,” Biden said. How about that! It gave way to a Bidenesque three-minute crossbreeding of talking points about Trump’s management of the multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief package. Sanders, who is not unfamiliar with the art of using any question as a prompt to deliver unrelated talking points, nodded dutifully.
“I want to thank you for your question,” Biden said, eventually.
Sanders would perk up during certain moments, such as when Biden observed that young people’s lives and careers would suffer from the rolling economic crisis. “I do think,” Biden said, “they’ve been put behind the eight ball more than our generation was, or any generation in recent history.” This was a concession from Biden, who had previously argued that today’s young people were spoiled brats.
“That’s absolutely true,” Sanders said, “and I’m glad you are prepared to focus on that issue.”
If there was any news beyond the endorsement itself, it was that the Sanders and Biden campaigns had agreed to join their brightest minds together to form six “task forces” to reach agreement on policy areas. Those areas, in Joe Biden’s words: “One on the economy, one on education, one on criminal justice … one on immigration, [one on] climate change, and [one on] the economy.” He probably meant health care instead of “economy” the second time. Sanders had the blank look, as Biden said this, of someone who was only then appreciating that he will be spending the next seven months saying “He probably meant X” in his capacity as a surrogate for Joe Biden.
The task forces are this cycle’s version of Sanders negotiating elements of the Democratic platform with Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. And now, as then, it is largely an exercise in face-saving—the giveaway is right there in the use of the term “task force,” government-ese for a superficial treatment of something. In order to bring more of his supporters on board with Biden’s candidacy, Sanders needs to show that he secured certain progressive “wins” in the official policy of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party platform is not binding, however. It’s not even remembered. President Joe Biden would govern however he wants.
What does appear genuine, though, is that Sanders and Biden like each other. This was evident throughout the campaign, when they joked with each other during debates and when Sanders refused to make certain personal, negative attacks against Biden despite pleadings from hard-liners within his camp. It’s evident at the end of the campaign, as Sanders has already dropped out and endorsed Biden by mid-April, a process that didn’t happen until July when Sanders was running against Hillary Clinton. “The former vice president,” BuzzFeed reported in a March pre-mortem of the Sanders campaign, “falls into an exclusive category for the Vermont senator: the people who were nice to Sanders before he mattered.” Whatever Senate lunch it was in, say, 2007 that Biden sat next to Sanders and chatted him up, it has more than paid off.