On July 21, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg argued that the GOP would call the Democrats socialists no matter what. Therefore, he reasoned, Democrats might as well adopt whatever platform they believe is right. The statement is sure to receive praise from progressives, and it shows Buttigieg trying to make his case that he is electable, which Democrats highly value during this election. However, the statement is misleading.
By making the statement, Buttigieg falsely implies that any eventual Democratic nominee is equally likely to be seen as socialist.
Buttigieg is probably correct that Republicans will try to attack any Democratic nominee as socialist. President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned Democrats want to turn the United States into Venezuela, even writing an op-ed in USA Today last year decrying “open-borders socialism.” And, from a strategic perspective, it makes sense. Republicans want to cast Democrats as extremists to scare moderates and drive down Democratic turnout. According to a Gallup poll, a majority of Americans still oppose socialism, though the ideology has become more popular in recent times.
The issue, however, with Buttigieg’s claim is that the public is not equally likely to see every candidate as socialist. For example, former Vice President Joe Biden would likely face attacks that he is a socialist from President Trump and other Republicans, but the general public is much less likely to believe those claims than they would be when used against avowed democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.
Voters have also indicated that they view Biden as more moderate than Sanders. According to a poll conducted by Business Insider, Biden is seen as much less liberal than Sanders. With this in mind, it seems that President Trump would have to work much harder to push voters to think of Biden as a far left extremist than he would have to for Sanders.
Now, does this mean I am suggesting that progressives simply toss away their values and line up their support for Biden? Of course not. It may be worth it for them to nominate a riskier candidate who would deliver on loftier goals.
In addition, although moderate candidates are generally more likely to win, that does not mean every moderate candidate is more electable. One person could conceivably make the case that Biden is not the most electable after his shaky debate performance in June. Perhaps you were impressed by Buttigieg’s $24.8 million fundraising haul in the previous quarter and now believe him to be the most electable. Both are valid reasons to question whether Biden is the safest option for Democrats in this election.
However, compared to the other candidates, Biden could likely avoid most of the political damage with attempts to cast him as a socialist.