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Democrats have considered their party to be a big tent. Does it have holes in it?


Super Tuesday fell just short of a clean sweep for President Biden and former President Donald Trump. Nikki Haley picked up one primary win in Vermont, but she's expected to suspend her campaign this morning in her home state of South Carolina.


We have a little bit of news in the results on the Democratic side as well this morning, because while President Biden won all the states, voters in Minnesota had a chance to check uncommitted. Many have been pushing the president to support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, and about 46,000 voters, 19%, checked uncommitted.

MARTIN: Now, historically, Democrats have liked to think of their party as a big tent, but with pain points around various issues, from immigration to the Gaza war, does that tent have holes in it? Faiz Shakir is the chief political adviser to Bernie Sanders. He is the founder of the pro-labor news site More Perfect Union. We decided to put that question to him, and he was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington to talk about it. Good morning.

FAIZ SHAKIR: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So can I just ask you to kind of contextualize this for me? How big is this protest vote, really? I'm thinking about like in Michigan, for example. Three times as many people voted for Nikki Haley as wrote in uncommitted. So how big of a movement do you think this is?

SHAKIR: Michel, when I - when we're talking about this issue, we should separate politics and policy. So first, let's just dive into the politics. You've asked the politics question. We know that there are six major states - Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona - that will decide this election. And the margins there could be ten, twenty thousand people. And so in that way, any vote matters. Biden has also indicated, rightly, that he wants people of good conscience on this issue who might disagree with him to be in his tent. And so he's saying, we need you here. That's the right political strategy.

For him, the challenge here is that as people are registering their vote in a democracy to say, I feel hurt, and I feel pain, and I disagree with you, President Biden, for him to say, I hear you, and I'm executing some change on policy. And on that score, we know he's fighting on a six-week cease-fire, beating his brains out to try to get there, but I don't think he can solve this political issue until he can show a change, of course, on policy. I know he's focused on it.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that, because the things that divide the party aren't small. Like, we're not talking about how big the corporate tax rate should be, for example. We're talking about some really deep hard issues like immigration or like the conflict in Gaza right now. So what can he really do if he has positions that he takes that he says are of conscience for him.

SHAKIR: I think one of those questions here is to show your values for President Biden. When you - are you willing to stand up to Netanyahu if you feel that American resources are going towards unjust means? And ultimately, there's a lot of policy solutions to that question. Yes, we want a cease-fire. But also, could there be restrictions on aid? Could there be conditions on aid? Could there be a change in the nature of the relationship? What I think President Biden is grappling with is this question of showing strength in this moment.

I'm reminded of a Bill Clinton quote from 2002, in which he advised Democrats, sometimes when people are in uncertain terms, they want strong and wrong over weak and right. And we know Donald Trump is wrong, and you're not going to defeat him with a fact-check contest. For President Biden to defeat him, I think he's got to show strength, that I've got a boldness and a vision that's value-aligned with the vast majority of people in this country.

MARTIN: Well, but speaking of Trump, I mean, the fact of the matter is, if you want to talk about values alignment, it would seem that the former president is very much not aligned with most Democratic voters. So if that is the alternative, is that enough to allow President Biden's critics to hold their noses, as the phrase goes, and go back to the president?

SHAKIR: I mean, President Biden has the opportunity now to have a foil. He's got a choice to present to voters. I mean, just a couple of days ago, President Trump or former President Trump indicated that he wants Israel to go into Rafah. He said, you know, they got to finish the job, kill more civilians. What President Biden has the opportunity to do is to say, here's your choice. You know, I'm trying to resolve a conflict, save civilians, provide humanitarian aid, and then this other person wants to just go in and kill more and slaughter more innocent people. So I think there is a choice which President Biden will have the opportunity to make, more so now than he has.

MARTIN: Very briefly, you helped bring President Biden in an unprecedented visit to the picket line when the United Auto Workers went on strike in September. What other things could he do? Are there things like that that he could do?

SHAKIR: Michel, you know, he's talking about shrinkflation or all this. He's worried about corporate cheating in our economy. Most people do not know he's taking on Google. He's doing Amazon. He's fighting a Kroger-Albertsons merger. He cares about corporate power, and he's taking it on in a big way.

MARTIN: That is Faiz Shakir. He's the chief political adviser to Bernie Sanders. Thank you so much.

SHAKIR: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now we're going to bring in NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, good morning to you.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Tell me what you think about what you just heard.

GONYEA: What it underscores is that there are so many moving parts for Biden. When you look at his coalition - right? - you've got the suburbs and the unions, both of which he seems to be doing reasonably well with right now, especially with that UAW endorsement that Mr. Shakir referenced, but not so well with young voters, with African American voters, and with Arab Americans. And then in terms of how they feel about him - on one hand, you've got some groups that are very angry. That's - those are the Muslim Americans, the Arab Americans. Others - if they're not angry, they lack enthusiasm. Those are two very different things to address.

MARTIN: That is NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea. And we previously heard from Faiz Shakir. He's the chief political adviser to Bernie Sanders. Thank you both. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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