Biden’s new ad campaign adopts Bernie’s populist tone. Ava DeSantis writes what this means for voters in 2020.

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Tomorrow, Vice President Joe Biden is expected to release the first ad blitz of the 2020 general election campaign. The ad takes on a populist tone familiar to former Sanders supporters, beginning with images of laborers, service workers, and other low to middle-income workers. Biden speaks over the footage, saying “It’s clear that this country wasn’t built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs, it was built by the great American middle class, healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, delivery truck drivers, grocery store workers.” 

Just two months ago, a top Biden staffer criticized the Sanders’campaign for “[dividing] the party, like we did last time to allow Trump to get reelected.” While Sanders was still campaigning, he said “Joe is going to have to explain to the American people why he voted for a Wall Street bailout, something that I vigorously opposed.”

Biden’s campaign replied that their strategy was to make Sanders pay for this attack “among electability minded voters.” Now, Biden’s campaign does not seem to think populism hurts a candidate’s electability.

Left-wing populism

Populism is a political philosophy, which identifies an “us,” and a “them,” in society. The “us” must come together to defeat the “them,” to better-said society. Many Americans became newly familiar with the term during the 2016 Presidential election when Donald Trump was branded as a right-wing populist. Right-wing populists are known for identifying immigrants or foreigners as the barrier between their supporters and a better life. Take his Wisconsin Rally as an example, where Trump bragged about “reducing refugee resettlement by 85%,” saying he will “always put American families first.”

Biden’s new ad takes on the populist tone of the Sanders campaign. The ad ends, addressing the viewer: ‘It’s not about me, it’s about you. It’s about us.’

Left-wing populism similarly identifies an enemy, but not based on race or nationality. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who is often labeled a populist by his political competitors, identified the “billionaire class” as exploitative and called to break up the “big banks.”

In 2015, at the Concordia Summit in New York, when there was speculation over whether Biden would run for the Democratic Party’s 2016 Presidential Nomination, he contrasted himself with then-candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. “I’m no Bernie Sanders. He’s a great guy by the way. He is. I’m not a populist. But I’m a realist,” he said

Biden’s new ad takes on the populist tone of the Sanders campaign. The ad ends, addressing the viewer: “It’s not about me, it’s about you. It’s about us.” This is an almost exact repetition of Sanders’ slogan “Not me. Us.” Biden’s ad seems to exclude Wall Street bankers and CEOs from this “Us.” It remains to be seen whether Biden’s appropriation of Sanders’ rhetoric will be enough to win over his supporters.

Campaign strategy

The ad will be broadcasted starting tomorrow in six states and on national cable. The Biden campaign is targeting the states which Trump won in 2016, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona.

In Arizona and Florida, the ad will be played in Spanish as well, to address Latinx voters. Describing the ad, Patrick Bonsignore, Biden’s Director of Paid Media, said “[This] was an address that Donald Trump could never give.”

The beginning of the general election campaign with this ad indicates that 2020 may be a contest between Donald Trump’s right-wing populist rhetoric, and Biden’s left-wing populist alternative.



Ava DeSantis is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She has a background in political science and history at George Washington University.    

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