WASHINGTON — Heading into Passover, Bernie Sanders set Joe Biden free: The Vermont senator ended his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination on April 8, hours before the holiday began, leaving the former vice president the presumptive nominee.
That gives Biden a head start in his bid to oust Donald Trump from the White House, but Trump has some major advantages, notably in media play and fundraising. The president has the pulpit of his daily White House pandemic news conferences, which often veer into campaign-style rhetoric. Biden, meantime, is confined to delivering daily pep talks from his Delaware home, where he barely registers online. There is the occasional exception, like the bro session on April 13 when Sanders endorsed Biden. That earned millions of views.
As to fundraising, the New York Times reported this week that Biden was behind Trump by $187 million, meaning he would have to raise $1 million a day until the election just to catch up with where Trump is today.
Which leaves a stew of questions about Biden’s Jewish campaign: Who will he turn to for fundraising? What does it mean for his foreign policy?
The last time Biden ran for president, in 2008, his financial director was Michael Adler, a Miami developer who is ensconced in the Jewish establishment — for years he led the straight down the center National Jewish Democratic Council and he’s been active with AIPAC. Adler is back on board the Biden train, although not in a senior campaign position. He has held fundraisers at his South Florida home.
Call Adler Biden’s Jewish old guard. He’s joined in that respect by an array of other establishment figures, including Comcast senior executive vice president David Cohen, who also has hosted fundraisers for Biden, and Stu Eizenstat, the veteran Holocaust reparations negotiator who penned an op-ed for the JTA favoring Biden.
But there are new Jewish kids on the Biden block, too. They earned their Democratic cred without having come up through the traditional pro-Israel channels, like accruing influence through AIPAC activism and fundraising.
Examples: Penny Pritzker and Bill Singer were scheduled to headline a Chicago area fundraiser for Biden on April 27. Pritzker, the hotel chain heiress whose brother J.B. is the governor of Illinois, was an early backer of Barack Obama and was his Commerce secretary. Singer, a corporate lawyer, is the wunderkind you forgot about: In the 1960s and 1970s, when he was in his 20s and 30s, he joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in leading left-wing insurgencies against the Democratic Party establishment. These days he’s on the board of J Street, the lobby group that is AIPAC’s bete noir.
Notably missing from this array is Haim Saban, the entertainment mogul and major Democratic giver who is close to Israel’s political establishment. Saban, who has a notable antipathy to Sanders and others on the party’s left flank, said in March that he was waiting out the primaries but has yet to pronounce.
On the Jewish donor angle, one intriguing establishment vs. insurgent skirmish is who runs the party’s digital campaign. According to coverage in The Intercept and Politico, the outfit that Bloomberg launched for his campaign, Hawkfish, is vying for the job.
The appeal: It’s up and running, it’s already been funded to a significant extent by the media mogul’s cash, and so it is bidding low.
The disadvantage: It’s Bloomberg. If there’s a victory that the party’s left can claim, it is booting the former New York mayor’s campaign to the street. Bloomberg was reviled for his corporatism and his record relating to the city’s minorities and as a boss relating to women. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first-term progressive from New York, has emphatically advised against using the group.
Biden has brought into the mix two Jewish Democratic groups that otherwise spent much of the primary season reviling one another: He has the endorsements of both the Democratic Majority for Israel, which is aligned with centrist pro-Israel policy, and J Street. Also in the offing this week is an endorsement from the centrist Jewish Democratic Council of America.
His acceptance of J Street’s endorsement was effusive, although short on specific areas of agreement. Biden, notably, has rejected J Street’s recent policy of leveraging aid to Israel to influence its policy.
Biden has told associates that his sharpest differences with Sanders are on foreign policy. So, naturally, much has been made of Biden’s reported readiness to accept Sanders advisers on his foreign policy team. It’s not clear yet whether that’s been the case, but it could be a red flag for the AIPAC crowd — Sanders boycotted the lobby’s conference this year and has said he would leverage aid to Israel.
On Israel, Biden has robustly favored a return to making the two-state solution the paramount outcome of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; Trump has significantly retreated from that goal. The person most identified with Biden foreign policy is Colin Kahl, who was his national security adviser when he was vice president. Kahl was on the team that shaped the 2015 Iran nuclear deal reviled by Israel and which Trump has quit.
Brookings Institution’s Thomas Wright says the centrist Democrats who advised Obama — and are likely to shape Biden’s outlook — have retreated from wanting to engage in the Middle East. He says they “now favor a significant reduction in U.S. goals” there.
The Charlottesville angle
Last year, Biden highlighted what he called the echoes of bigotry in Trump’s governing style — citing Trump’s Charlottesville response, for example, in the center of his campaign rollout. Sanders has said that the same threat is a major part of the reason he is endorsing him, and has cited that threat in shushing former aides who will not back Biden. I’m hearing from Democrats that this will be the preeminent feature of the Jewish Biden campaign.
Biden has three children-in-law — all are Jewish. His Passover statement emphasized the loneliness that Jewish families would suffer during their pandemic Seders. His personal relationship with Jews, in his families and during a long political career, also will be highlighted in his campaign. A Delaware rabbi’s story of encountering Biden at a laundry room shiva has already featured multiple times on the campaign.