A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

Three questions as Biden effectively locks down nomination

Coronavirus has upended the 2020 campaign. One question is whether the election will even happen at all. Liberals and conservatives agree on the answer.

Matt Rourke/AP
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus March 12, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware.

Dear reader:

Joe Biden’s sweep of Tuesday’s primaries effectively seals the Democratic presidential nomination for the former vice president. As I write, his only opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is “assessing” his campaign and is expected to drop out at some point.

For now, though, both candidates are focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, and in live-streamed remarks Tuesday night, expressed their concerns and aspirations for Americans at this challenging time.

Indeed, as James Hohmann of the Washington Post writes, “many Americans seem far less interested in partisan politics now than the virus’s potential impact on their lives and their livelihoods.”

Still, it’s an election year - albeit one filled with uncertainty. Will Senator Sanders work hard to unite his army of disappointed followers behind former Vice President Biden in the effort to defeat President Donald Trump? Will the national party conventions take place this summer - or at all? Will the election itself even happen?

On the first question, Mr. Sanders promised earlier this month to back Mr. Biden if he’s the nominee, but the crisis has only highlighted their differences: Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist, is focused on protecting low-income Americans while the center-left Mr. Biden projects a more holistic approach.

At the same time, Mr. Biden has said he’ll adopt plans from both the Sanders and Elizabeth Warren campaigns on education costs and bankruptcy. The Democratic mainstream has most certainly shifted left. Whether that will be enough to energize Sanders supporters remains to be seen.

Which brings the discussion back to President Trump. Even if not inspired by Mr. Biden, Sanders supporters can be motivated by the “negative partisanship” of voting against Mr. Trump. The decision Thursday by Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard to drop out and endorse Mr. Biden (and not run as an independent, as some feared) reinforced Democratic unity.

Perhaps the quadrennial conventions won’t be needed to ramp up partisan enthusiasm. As things looks now, with all major gatherings off the table for the foreseeable future, a convention-less and rally-free campaign may be in our future. The parties may have to find another way to formally nominate their candidates.

And what of the election itself? Senators are pushing for vote-by-mail to keep people safe, as CNBC reports. And as Buzzfeed recently asked, what happens if Mr. Trump tries to cancel or postpone the election because of the coronavirus? The short answer is, he can’t do either. To go to that length would require both an act of Congress and a change to the Constitution, both liberal and conservative experts agree.

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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