Episode 8: ‘Hard Left’
Producer/Director Samantha Stark
[Read Astead W. Herndon’s article on how the young activists of the Sunrise Movement have become political power players in the 2020 presidential race.]
Many Democrats want their 2020 presidential nominee to do two things above all: Defeat Donald Trump and protect the planet from imminent environmental disaster. But liberal activists, party officials and even some of the candidates themselves disagree on how far left the party should go to successfully accomplish both tasks. How they settle their differences over proposals like the Green New Deal, a groundbreaking climate-change plan, will likely influence the party’s — and the country’s — future.
“The Weekly” embeds with the young, liberal activists of the Sunrise Movement for three months as they aggressively press their case for revolutionary measures alongside Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders. And we catch up with the Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and other party loyalists, some of whom warn that radical policies may jeopardize their chances of beating Trump, who has mocked the threat of climate change in the past.
Astead’s Top 3 Takeaways
The Democratic Party’s leftward shift since the 2016 presidential election is undeniable. The 2018 midterm election results and the tenor of the early stages of the 2020 presidential race show that, in most areas, progressives have pushed Democrats left on a number of issues. Candidates are discussing Supreme Court expansion, reparations, single-payer health care, and free college — in addition to the Green New Deal. Even Biden’s seemingly moderate campaign is more liberal than any of his previous runs for office in his 50-year political career.
The establishment is nervous. Older, more moderate Democrats say the way back to the White House is to reclaim many people who voted for President Trump in 2016, and they point to wins by moderate Democrats in 2018 congressional races and Midwestern gubernatorial contests as proof of their strategy. The more candidates who embrace far-left positions like the Green New Deal, the more unsettled many moderates become.
Democrats of all stripes are up against the Trump campaign juggernaut. The president’s re-election campaign, as you can see from his campaign rallies, has largely been about energizing his base with sweeping and incendiary attacks against his opponents. Democrats, despite the infighting, have largely kept the primary debate focused on policy. They must ultimately come together around their nominee if they are to defeat an incumbent who has united the Republican base.
Varshini Prakash, the co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, is still the group’s executive director. The group helped bring more than 1,000 young people to Detroit for the second Democratic presidential debate, where they tried to push candidates to further commit to the Green New Deal.
Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the policy director for New Consensus, lives in Washington, where she works with progressive groups to win broad support for the Green New Deal and other progressive policies.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York continues to gather supporters for her climate initiative. She’s faced pushback from party leaders, who introduced their own climate proposal that stops short of the Green New Deal’s most ambitious goals, but goes further than previous policies put forward by Democrats.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s strategy of projecting unity with the other Democratic candidates was rattled in the first primary debate, when Senator Kamala Harris of California challenged his record and personal views. Biden, who leads the Democratic primary field in national polls, is more vocally highlighting his differences with other candidates and leaning in to the moderate label more explicitly.
Producer Lizzie Blenk
Director of Photography Andreas Burgess and Vanessa Carr
Video Editor Geoff O’Brien and Sean Frechette
Senior Story Editors Dan Barry, Liz O. Baylen and Liz Day
Co-Producer Lora Moftah