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Divide Between Moderate And Progressive Democrats Comes To Fore In New Hampshire


As voters here prepare to cast their ballots in the state primary tomorrow, you might have a sense of deja vu. The split in the Democratic Party that defined the race four years ago is becoming one of the main features of the 2020 race as well. We're talking about the divide between party moderates and those on the far left.

NPR's Scott Detrow has been following the Bernie Sanders campaign, and he is here in our New Hampshire studios. Good to see you in Manchester, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

SHAPIRO: Let's start with the Iowa results just one week ago - and maybe I should put results in air quotes there - seems as good a sign as any that this divide between the party's moderate wing and the liberal wing is in full flower.

DETROW: Right. With all the questions about the exact results, we do know that Iowa elevated two people with fundamentally different views of the Democratic Party, of the role of government, of what they want to do if they become president. So Bernie Sanders - to take a step back, the entire premise, really, of his campaign is a fundamental reordering of government and of the economy as a whole.

Here he was a week ago at his semi-victory, semi-I-don't-really-know-what-happened...

SHAPIRO: Who even knows what's happening?

DETROW: ...We're-filling-the-void-by-talking speech.


BERNIE SANDERS: Our message to Wall Street and the insurance companies and the drug companies and the fossil fuel industry and the military industrial complex...


SANDERS: ...And the prison industrial complex...


SANDERS: ...Our message to them is, change is coming.

DETROW: So if you look through what he's talking about what he wants to do - think about it - health care, energy, you know, the economy, college - fundamental aspects of everyday life, he wants to blow up and rebuild in a much more progressive way.

SHAPIRO: And Buttigieg?

DETROW: He wants to make a lot of progress on every single one of these things for sure, but working within the existing system - big changes, but still incremental changes. So you've had Sanders really increasingly attack Pete Buttigieg as someone who represents the status quo. And in recent days, Pete Buttigieg has been pushing back on that.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: I respect Senator Sanders, but at a moment like this when the message goes out that you're either for a revolution or you must be for the status quo, most of us don't know where we fit and would rather be part of a movement that makes room for all of us.

SHAPIRO: So how has this split shaped the other candidates' approach to the race?

DETROW: So you have seen a lot of the more moderate candidates - especially Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who's really trying to force her way into the conversation here and say, I am the better choice than Pete Buttigieg to represent this wing of the party - talk a lot about the fact that, yes, they share a lot of these big-picture goals, but they are working in a world of trying to actually get things passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives. So you hear a lot more conversation about governing, about building coalitions, about the specific legislative plan and about their experience doing this in the Senate and throughout their actual careers.

Here's Klobuchar in Friday night's debate.


AMY KLOBUCHAR: Bernie and I work together all the time. But I think we are not going to be able to out-divide the divider in chief. And I think we need someone to head up this ticket that actually brings people with her instead of shutting them out.

DETROW: So I think maybe the better way to frame this divide is not necessarily moderate versus progressive, but practical versus ideological.

SHAPIRO: You spent a lot of time with Bernie Sanders on this campaign, as well as on his last presidential campaign. Do you see differences between the divide today and in 2016?

DETROW: Yeah. And I think this is the point in the conversation where we have to really stress that the moderate versus progressive divide is very relative. Every single one of these candidates - almost every single one of these candidates has put together a platform that is far more progressive than what the Obama administration was able to accomplish.

SHAPIRO: So everything's moved to the left.

DETROW: Even though Bernie Sanders did not get the Democratic nomination in 2016, the party as a whole has embraced a lot of his platform - $15 minimum wage and health care. Even though there's this conversation about "Medicare for All" or a public option, the premise of the conversation is giving everybody health care through a government-run program, and that was the heart of Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign and 2020 campaign.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Scott Detrow covering the final stretch of the New Hampshire primary campaign here in Manchester.

Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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