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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden waves to the crowd at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP) Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden waves to the crowd at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden waves to the crowd at Miramar Regional Park in Miramar, Fla., Tuesday Oct. 13, 2020. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman October 15, 2020

Trump’s false claim that Biden is a socialist

If Your Time is short

  • Republicans have used the term "socialist" for decades to attack Democrats and their policies.

  • Biden has not advocated nationalizing industries, a key principle of socialism. His platform on health care, energy and other issues aligns with moderate Democrats, not socialists.

  • Trump has said the Democrats want to turn America into Cuba or Venezuela; Biden has criticized Cuba’s record on human rights and called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a "tyrant."

In bus tours across Florida, on social media and on TV airwaves, in English and in Spanish, President Donald Trump and his allies have portrayed Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris as socialists who will lead the United States toward a leftist extreme.

"Joe Biden is saying he owns the socialism and extremism in his party, that he owns it," Trump said in a Sept. 30 Minnesota rally.

"Socialism is the mainstream of the Biden campaign and it's not the mainstream of America. Remember I said, we will never have a socialist country," Trump said at an August rally in Arizona.

Biden and Harris reject Trump’s socialism label.

"I beat the socialist," Biden said in a TV interview in Wisconsin, a reference to Democratic primary competitor Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who calls himself a democratic socialist. "That’s how I got elected. That’s how I got the nomination. Do I look like a socialist? Look at my career — my whole career. I am not a socialist."

Republicans have used the socialist label to attack Democrats and their policies for decades, including over programs such as Medicare or Social Security that ultimately became popular on both sides of the aisle. We saw a ramping up of such attacks in 2018, especially in Florida.

Socialism is a dirty word in the voter-rich battleground of South Florida, where many residents fled oppressive regimes in Cuba and Venezuela and literally argue about the socialism and communism label in the streets of Miami. 

We wanted to cut through the noise and examine the facts. 

The Trump campaign argues that Biden’s proposals to expand health care, offer free college tuition to some students and promote clean energy are evidence of socialist leanings. Experts say this characterization is wrong.

"Strictly speaking, socialism (like communism) refers to complete public ownership of all means of production," said Daniel Shaviro, an expert on taxation at New York University. "Nothing in Biden’s platform is remotely in that territory."

Professor Ted Henken, an expert on Cuba at New York’s Baruch College, agreed. 

 "Joe Biden’s long record in Congress shows him to be exactly what he claims, a moderate Democrat," Henken said. "Harris is a bit more liberal or progressive, but far from being a socialist either."

What is socialism?

The most narrow definition of socialism refers to complete government ownership of production. 

When Sanders uses the term, he is referring to the generous social insurance programs available in some European countries, along with high tax rates, if needed, to pay for education, health care or other programs.

That’s not what Biden’s platform calls for.

Biden’s economic plan emphasizes job creation in manufacturing, infrastructure and health care, but he has not called for the government to take over those industries. Biden would reverse Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and he supports a $15-an-hour national minimum wage. That doesn’t amount to socialism, either.

While Harris signed on to Senate bills supporting Medicare for All, which would put the government in charge of paying for health care, it’s Biden who is at the top of the ticket. He proposes to improve the Affordable Care Act, rather than revamp the health care system. He supports allowing Americans the choice of a public option for government-backed health insurance, in addition to the private insurance options. Those eligible for Medicaid could enroll in the public option at reduced cost.

Socialized medicine generally refers to a system in which the government pays all the bills, owns the health facilities and employs the health professionals who work there. The ACA, by contrast, has a large market component, allowing people to buy insurance on the marketplace from private insurance companies. (Trump supports litigation to undo the ACA.)

Biden hasn’t embraced Medicare for All, but experts told us that Medicare for All as proposed doesn’t constitute socialism either.

"Medicare for All is a proposal that would make U.S. health care comparable to that in other countries with capitalist economies, with a primary role for government with regard to social welfare," said Martin Gaynor, Carnegie Mellon University professor of economics and public policy. "I wouldn’t call that socialism."

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After clinching the nomination, Biden shifted to the left on environmental, health care and racial justice issues, but his economic platform is still far from being socialist, Henken said. (Henken recently started volunteering for a Democratic Party hotline that answers voters’ questions about when and where to vote. It’s open to all voters, regardless of affiliation.)

"It is much more solidly in line with America’s tradition of Keynesian economics, where the government increases spending and keeps taxes low (for all but the very rich) to jump-start the private sector — which is understood to be the best motor for growth, innovation and job creation," Henken said.

Antony Davies, a free-market economist at Duquesne University, said Biden’s proposals such as improving the ACA, reinstating environmental protections and investing tax dollars in infrastructure are not strictly speaking socialist.

"Some of the policies are heavily regulatory, in that they would have politicians and bureaucrats weigh in on what products Americans will have, but the policies do not call for the government to take ownership of housing, infrastructure, or to directly employ workers," he said.

The real problem, Davies said, lies in thinking in binary terms: socialism vs. capitalism. 

"There is no example of a pure socialist or a pure capitalist economy. All economies are located on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes," he said. "Many of Biden’s policies do move the United States further toward the socialist end of the continuum, in that the policies replace voluntary decision-making with coercive decision-making. But some, like some of his proposed environmental protections, actually move the United States further away from the socialist end of the continuum by reinforcing voluntary decision-making."

Trump campaign points to endorsements

To back its claim that Biden is a socialist, the Trump campaign pointed to support for Biden from the chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA, and the Working Families Party, as well as support from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. (The Biden campaign noted that the Democratic Socialists of America declined to endorse him.)

But those endorsements or support don’t necessarily mean they agree with Biden on ideology, or that Biden subscribes to their ideologies. It means they prefer Biden to Trump.

Biden has also been endorsed by the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans, as well as some Republican national security officials. But Biden is no Republican. 

"Trump recently received the endorsement of the Taliban," said Philip J. Williams, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at California Polytechnic State University and an expert on Latin American politics. "Does that make him a Taliban?" (The Trump campaign said it rejected that endorsement.)

The Biden-Sanders unity platform

The Trump campaign also pointed to the Biden-Sanders unity platform document, developed by representatives of the two Democratic candidates in an effort to consolidate support after the primary contest. The document proposes expanding some social programs beyond what the United States currently provides, such as free-tuition at public colleges for students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year and more ambitious goals on renewable energy. But it does not propose a government takeover of private industry. It also omits some liberal wish-list programs such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

The Trump campaign also pointed to a New York Times article about Biden’s climate plan, which the campaign said would increase government control over the energy industry. 

Biden’s energy plan isn’t socialism, Williams said.

"It does not call for a government takeover of the energy industry — instead it proposes various carrots and sticks to move the private energy industry in the direction of renewable energy," Williams said. 

Trump links Democrats to foreign socialists

Trump sometimes tries to link the Democrats’ platform to socialism in Venezuela or communism in Cuba, seeking to capitalize on opposition to those regimes in Florida’s large emigre communities

But Trump’s suggestion that Biden or the Democrats want to turn America into Cuba or Venezuela is ridiculous, Williams said.

"There is no evidence based on Biden’s proposed policies or his background that he is a socialist or even sympathetic to socialist policies," Williams said.

Biden has called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a "tyrant" and has criticized the Cuban regime’s abusive record on human rights.

Eduardo A. Gamarra, a political scientist at Florida International University, said that the Democrats’ agenda doesn’t call for creating a one-party state which has existed for decades in Cuba and Venezuela. The Democrats also don’t call for nationalizing key industries or private universities or creating a single media outlet as a government mouthpiece.

RELATED: Scott's misleading attack on Biden about Castro, Maduro

Our ruling

Trump says Biden is a socialist.

Socialism refers to a government takeover of industry, and Biden has not called for that. Experts say his positions on health care, energy and other areas are those of a moderate Democrat, not a socialist.

There’s no support for the claim that Biden wants the U.S. to be like Cuba or Venezuela.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

President Donald Trump, Tweet, Oct. 10, 2020

President Donald Trump, Tweet, June 22, 2020

Trump War Room, Tweet, Oct. 7, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence, Tweet, Oct. 10, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Tweet, Feb. 22, 2020

Former Vice PResident Joe Biden, Tweet, Feb. 19, 2020

New York Times, Kamala Harris Has Settled on an Iowa Strategy. Now What? Oct. 6, 2020

New York Times, Biden’s response to voters concerned about socialism: ‘I beat the socialist.’ Sept. 22, 2020

Tampa Bay Times, Trump campaign launches ‘Fighters Against Socialism’ bus tour in Tampa, Oct. 11, 2020

Miami Herald, 'It's a Trojan horse.' Donald Trump Jr., Rubio rally Miami Hispanics as race tightens, Oct. 11, 2020

Sun Sentinel, Donald Trump Jr. rallies with MMA fighters in Coconut Creek, rips Joe Biden as 'socialist’ who would take down the country, Oct. 11, 2020

Washington Post, What is socialism? March 5, 2019

Washington Post opinion, Trump is the true socialist, July 25, 2019

USA Today op ed by Owen Ullmann Opinion contributor, Coronavirus has made Trump a socialist. He needs big government to save our economy. April 15, 2020

Washington Post, The Finance 202: Trump blasts socialism while using it in his economic response to the coronavirus, March 23, 2020

NPR, Democratic Task Forces Deliver Biden A Blueprint For A Progressive Presidency, July 8, 2020, Donald Trump Duluth, Minnesota Campaign Rally Transcript, Sept. 30, 2020, Speech: Donald Trump Addresses Border Security in a Campaign Stop in Yuma, Arizona, Aug. 18, 2020, Speech: Donald Trump Holds a Campaign Rally in Sanford, Oct. 12, 2020

Democratic Socialists of America, Tweet, April 12, 2020

Politico’s Sabrina Rodriguez, Tweet, Oct. 5, 2020

New York Times’ Patricia Mazzei, Tweet, Oct. 14, 2020

WLRN, Toro Time: Did 'Bidenistas' Take The 'Socialista' Bull By The Horns In Florida? Oct. 10, 2020

Working Families Party, Making Trump A One-Term President Is Our Moral Mandate, Aug. 13, 2020

PolitiFact, Joe Biden on the issues: a PolitiFact guide, Oct. 6, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, Florida's Andrew Gillum does not have a far left socialist platform," Sept. 6, 2018

PolitiFact, "A vote for any Democrat is not a vote for socialism, open borders and tax increases," Oc.t 24, 2018

PolitiFact, Gov. Rick Scott's Pants on Fire statement that Sen. Bill Nelson is a socialist, Sept. 27, 2018

PolitiFact, Bernie Sanders — socialist or democratic socialist? Aug. 26, 2015

Statement from Trump campaign to PolitiFact, Oct. 12, 2020

Email interview, Andrew Bates, Joe Biden campaign spokesperson, Oct. 12, 2020

Email interview, Daniel Shaviro, professor of taxation at New York University, Oct. 12, 2020

Email interview, Ted Henken, Associate Professor of Sociology and Latin American Studies, Oct. 13, 2020

Telephone interview, Eduardo A. Gamarra, professor of political science in the department of politics and international relations at Florida International University, Oct. 12, 2020

Email interview, Philip J. Williams, Dean, College of Liberal Arts, Cal Poly, Oct. 14, 2020

Email interview, Antony Davies, Associate Professor of Economics at Duquesne University, Oct. 15, 2020

Telephone interview, Roberta Wood, board member of Communist Party USA, Oct. 15, 2020


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