WASHINGTON _ The first night of the Democratic convention featured John Kasich, the Republican former governor of Ohio, seeking to reassure members of his party that if they voted for Joe Biden, he would not “turn sharp left and leave them behind.”
On the second night, former GOP Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Republican Defense Secretary and Sen. Chuck Hagel and other stalwarts of the traditional foreign policy establishment saluted Biden as a leader who would, in Powell’s words, “stand with our friends and stand up to our adversaries.”
On Wednesday, while the night’s speakers stuck to a more consistently Democratic script, prominent liberal Jesuit priest Father James Martin pledged that in his benediction on the convention’s following and final night, he would mention the “unborn” — a word rarely heard at recent Democratic conclaves.
“These are not normal times,” as Kasich said.
But more surprising than some of the words from the convention’s virtual podium has been the reaction from the Democratic left — not quite a collective shrug, but something far short of rebellion.
Jeff Weaver, a top advisor to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, illustrated the revived coinage. “What Vice President Biden has been able to demonstrate is the breadth of his electoral coalition, the formation of a popular front” against Trump, he said.
Not everyone is fully on board, of course: The specter of another four years of Trump has not caused Democrats to entirely abandon their party’s devotion to disagreement.
“I would urge the DNC to remember its base and not deflate delegates with speeches from Republicans who led us into war on Iraq or signed legislation to restrict reproductive rights,” said Marcy Winograd, a Sanders delegate.
So far, however, the vocal objectors remain in the minority.
Biden and his campaign aides have had remarkable success in unifying Democrats, said Democratic analyst Ruy Teixeira. In sharp contrast to four years ago, when Democrats remained deeply divided between supporters of Sanders and backers of Hillary Clinton, Biden spent the late spring and summer successfully mending relations, following the principle of “not making anybody your enemy unless they need to be,” Teixeira said.
Weaver said that the way Biden’s camp “reached out and worked” to forge agreements with Sanders on much of the party platform leaves him with “no concerns.”
The efforts to attract support from people like Kasich are part of building “an electoral coalition; it’s not the governing coalition,” he said.
“We certainly have seen no backsliding on the substance” of the issues that the Biden and Sanders camps agreed to, he added.
Those negotiations led to agreements on some positions that might fit Kasich’s definition of a “turn sharp left,” including an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, support for paid family leave and a plan to combat climate change by ending the burning of oil, coal and other fossil fuels for electricity by 2035. Biden also supports a proposal ardently sought by progressives to revive and expand parts of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
On other issues, the party remains more divided: Most notably, Biden during the primaries rejected Sanders’ signature call for abolishing private health insurance and moving to a single-payer, “Medicare for all” plan. Biden’s alternative, however, a public option plan that would allow people to enroll in government health insurance if they want it, would go far beyond what the Obama administration proposed during the legislative battles over healthcare in 2009 and 2010.
There’s also the issue of whether bipartisanship as Biden envisions it — or at least often talks about it — would work as a governing strategy.
Although the list of Republicans endorsing Biden has grown long, it hasn’t grown in currency: Nearly all have in common that they no longer hold public office.
For now, however, those problems lie in the future. The Democrats’ moderate establishment and progressive insurgents both seem willing to set them aside in the interest of not just mobilizing the party’s base, but of winning over voters who four years ago sided with Trump or with third-party candidates.
And even Democrats who dislike seeing Republicans share their stage seem willing to put up with it.