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Michael Bloomberg's presidential run is a gambit to stifle progressives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Michael Bloomberg's presidential run is a gambit to stifle progressives. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Centrists Don’t Want "Party Unity"—They Want to Defend the Wealthy

Attacks by moderate Democrats on Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are really about defending corporate power and structural inequality.

Christopher D. Cook

 by In These Times

As the Democratic caucuses and primaries hurtle ever closer, Democratic centrists ranging from billionaire Michael Bloomberg to former President Barack Obama are waging a frantic war to stifle more progressive candidates, i.e. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

If the Democratic establishment’s goal is defeating Trump and winning the White House, the evidence is clear: a progressive candidate such as Sanders or Warren can absolutely win.

In the name of “unifying” to defeat Trump, this centrist deception falsely insists that only a moderate can bring voters together and win in 2020. This argument may sound reasonable at first glance—but it contradicts facts on the ground showing strong support for both progressive candidates and policies.

Polling shows wavering and declining support for would-be centrist standard-bearer Joe Biden, throwing into question his claims of “electability.” And while Pete Buttigieg is polling strongly in Iowa, his numbers among African-American voters—a key Democratic voting bloc—remain persistently low.

While polls are volatile and ever-shifting, some longstanding patterns are clear. Foremost, several leading Democratic candidates—including Bernie Sanders, by substantial margins—consistently beat President Trump by varying degrees, belying the centrist canard that only a moderate can win. Meanwhile, the combined polling of Sanders and Warren consistently demonstrates strong support for a progressive nominee rather than a centrist one. (While Sanders is running on a policy agenda to the left of Warren, they’re both decidedly on the progressive wing.)

Ironically, establishment Democrats insist a progressive nominee can’t win, yet the clear viability of a progressive victory in the primaries and the general election appears to be precisely what they fear.

On issue after issue, from taxing the rich to universal healthcare and free college, a majority of Democratic voters sides with the progressive wing of the party over centrist naysayers. What’s more, analysis by Gabriel Lenz, a political scientist at the University of California, shows that voters are less likely to be scared off by terms like “socialism” if they generally agree with or approve of a candidate. And as Bernie Sanders remains one of the most popular politicians in the country, boasting high approval ratings, there’s ample reason to believe that his left-wing politics would not be the liability many centrists claim.

In the latest move to stop Democrats from embracing a progressive challenge to corporate power, Bloomberg has leaped into the race, plunking down an initial $30 million nationwide ad buy.

Sanders quickly blasted Bloomberg’s multi-million-dollar entry, saying, “We do not believe that billionaires have the right to buy elections. That is why multi-billionaires like Mr. Bloomberg are not going to get very far in this election.”

As Common Dreams reports, Sanders’ speechwriter David Sirota noted that “the timing of Bloomberg’s announcement lines up with Sanders’ rise in the polls and a well-reported meeting between the media mogul and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, one of the two wealthiest men in the world alongside Microsoft founder Bill Gates.” Sirota added, “Bloomberg began floating the idea of a presidential bid in 2016, just as Bernie was beginning to gain momentum in that race. At the time, Bloomberg disparaged Bernie and his campaign’s challenge to Wall Street.”

Obama, who until recently has maintained public neutrality on the Democratic primary, hurled his centrist handwringing into the political sphere, insisting that progressive leaders (read: Sanders and Warren) are pushing the party “too far left.” Politico recently reported that the former president has “said if Sanders held a strong lead in the Democratic primary, he would speak out to prevent him from becoming the nominee.” 

One close adviser to Obama, while refusing to confirm the reports, acknowledged: “The only reason I'm hesitating at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something.” The idea that Obama would “intervene” to help prevent a Sanders victory fits a pattern of comments from the former president dismissing progressive candidates or policies as not viable.

The Democratic establishment’s undermining of Bernie Sanders is, of course, nothing new—substantial evidence showed the DNC leadership actively worked to undermine Sanders’ 2016 campaign. This round, establishment Democrats are back at it. In one early salvo, the centrist think tank Center for American Progress published an anti-Sanders video in April criticizing the senator as a “millionaire.”

Clinton loyalist David Brock, a longtime political operative, said he’s had discussions with other operatives about an anti-Sanders campaign and believes it should commence “sooner rather than later,” the New York Times reported last April. In a story depicting centrist moves to stifle Sanders, the Times noted, “His strength on the left gives him a real prospect of winning the Democratic nomination and could make him competitive for the presidency if his economic justice message resonates in the Midwest as much as Mr. Trump’s appeals to hard-edge nationalism did in 2016.”

There is evidence that some Wall Street and corporate powerbrokers who hold sway over the Democratic Party would sit out the 2020 election, or even back Trump to avoid redistributive policies such as the wealth tax. As one senior private equity executive told CNBC anonymously: “You’re in a box because you’re a Democrat and you’re thinking, ‘I want to help the party, but [Warren is] going to hurt me, so I’m going to help President Trump.” (While some Wall Street executives singled out Warren, Sanders’ wealth tax would similarly redistribute America’s wealth downward.)   

In truth, the divisive attacks on Sanders and Warren have nothing to do with assuring Democratic unity, or victory. Rather, they serve to defend deeply embedded financial interests and the wealthy donor class on which the mainstream Democratic Party has come to rely. Such wealthy interests are adamantly opposed to the types of policies being advocated by Sanders and Warren—such as Medicare for All and a Green New Deal—that would threaten their concentrated financial and political power.

Both of these supposedly “radical” policies, which centrist candidates routinely denigrate and dismiss, boast robust nationwide support, even across party lines.

More than two-thirds of Americans support Medicare for All, surveys show, while only 20% “outright oppose” this policy. The Green New Deal, meanwhile, registered more than 80% support among voters in 2018.

While many establishment critiques claim Sanders is unelectable because of his unabashedly left agenda, by many measures, he appears more electable than most of the other candidates in the race. Sanders consistently polls better against Trump than everyone but Biden; he consistently raises more money than his opponents and recently shattered campaign records by reaching four million individual contributors and his 2016 performance in key swing states such as Michigan and Wisconsin could bode well for a Sanders victory in the general election.

If the Democratic establishment’s goal is defeating Trump and winning the White House, the evidence is clear: a progressive candidate such as Sanders or Warren can absolutely win. There is, in fact, no evidence that only a centrist can.

As longtime political analyst—and former Democratic National Committee member—James Zogby recently observed, “Pundits & Dem operatives continue to insist that Bernie Sanders is too angry, too left, or too whatever to win. They’re dead wrong. He has the right tone & right issues to win a broad coalition. What won’t win is dull-edged centrism that can’t excite or convince voters.”

© 2021 In These Times
Christopher D. Cook

Christopher D. Cook

Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author of "Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis" (2006). Cook has written for Harper's, The Economist, Mother Jones, The Christian Science Monitor, Common Dreams and elsewhere. See more of his work at

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