Former Vice-President Joe Biden is the instant front-runner with his official announcement he’s running for President. But is he ultimately the candidate with the best shot at beating Trump?
Fivethirtyeight’s Nate Silver points out that while Biden enjoys the best name recognition, and is way ahead of any other individual candidate at this point, he does not blow away the Democratic field as a whole. So it leaves openings for upstarts when the field starts thinning out, and for Biden too, if he’s able to further build on relationships he already built when he was a popular Vice-President.
Most of the criticism of Biden as a politician so far (we’ll get to the personal stuff in a sec), is that he’s too much of an old-school centrist, and thus won’t be capable of attracting younger voters with his pizzazz or policies. At the same time, there’s no one in the Democratic field who can do a better job of walking into a biker joint, as this now-iconic AP photo from 2012 shows.
Does that have anything to do with whether someone’s qualified to be President? Yeah, kinda…
CQ/Roll Call has an interesting graphic somewhat debunking that Biden’s too centrist, showing he’s been at the Liberal end of things, even compared to other Democrats, during his decades in Congress. (It’s not the easiest graphic to figure out, but once you do, it’s surprisingly and abundantly clear. Also, if it’s too small, click on it for larger version):
Biden’s also had a keen interest in foreign policy, twice serving as Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee when he was Senator. God knows this is an area that will be in dire need of repair once Trump’s done with it. (No, Mr. President, America is not “Respected again”, nor feared. We do a lot of international traveling and right now, you are mostly reviled.)
One of Biden’s ideas — which seems like a no brainer now — was to fund secular schools (pretty inexpensively) as part of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan following 9/11, just as money was pouring in from wealthy sources in the mid-East to build madrassas teaching hard-line messages. (Parents are generally going to send their kids to school whenever and wherever they can.) Republicans killed that idea, which might’ve saved a lot of lives and heartache. (Trump’s also kind of trying to kill secular schools right now in the U.S.) Biden was also the leading proponent of a plan to create three semi-autonomous regions in post-Saddam Iraq, based on sectarian (racial, religious) interests. Who knows how that might’ve worked? Or not. Trump’ll probably come up with a way to hammer at that, and he might be on solid footing there.
Also, some other specific instances when Biden really stood out as a Senator, weren’t exactly flattering, nor reflective of what either were or have become mainstream Democratic ideals. For instance in his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony during Justice Clarence Thomas’ conformation hearing, when Biden was Chair of the Judiciary Committee. Biden apparently awkwardly reached out to Hill to apologize before deciding to run.
Another possible obstacle is that a number of Republicans seem willing to embrace him, which would seem like a plus, but might actually hurt Biden among the Liberals he needs to attract the most, while doing little to erode Trump’s base. (Even Trump Tweeted some kind words,vs. the rest of the “sick and demented” Democratic field.)
At the same time, Biden’s already being singled out for attack by establishment Republicans more so than any other Democratic candidate thus far. Even in silly ways, like criticizing him for launching his campaign in Pennsylvania, where he’s from. Is it because they see him as the biggest threat? Or because they know that attacking him incessantly will drum up more support for him among Democrats, and he’ll be the easiest to run against because he’s a known quantity?
Republican operatives are already hammering at the fact that President Obama didn’t immediately come out and endorse Biden. And we completely agree with one of our favorite readers that even if there’s no formal endorsement, it’s completely essential for Obama to come on to the scene as Biden’s “wing-man” for him to have a chance at all.
We really shouldn’t need to say this, but Biden would also be the candidate most likely to be heeded should Trump lose but refuse to leave office.
But in the end: “he’s too old”, is the main retort we hear. Especially from millennials, and also people closer to Biden’s end of the age spectrum. And although we’re several decades younger than Biden, we include ourselves among the latter, because our minds just aren’t as quick as they used to be when we were younger. It’s true. If Biden is elected he will be the oldest person ever to enter the office: he’d be 78 at inauguration. (We’re sure people will start doing analyses finding, like, John Adams who was 61 in 1797, or Andrew Jackson, who was almost 62 in 1829, was actually much older in “2020” years, because life spans are so much longer now.)
But, so is Bernie. Trump’s only a couple of years younger. So in that company (though not the Democratic field as a whole), while not a whippersnapper, Biden kind of fits right in. Trump proved his worth in this regard by demonstrating extraordinary stamina on the campaign train. Biden will have to do the same.
Biden’s penchant for touching or hugging women and smelling their hair, is a problem that isn’t going away. Any invocation of that by Republicans at least (and they already are, gingerly), elicits two words: pussy grabber. Still, that won’t change the way that behavior plays to Democrats. And Republicans are sure to focus a lot of opposition research dollars on digging up more dirt in this area, whereas Trump’s already slid his way around it.
Ultimately, whether Biden wins the nomination or not will be the answer to a couple of very simple questions:
- Are Americans looking for someone transformational, as they often are in a Presidential candidate?
- Or this time around, are they looking for a seasoned, non-divisive, comforting pro who’ll set things right, who’ll win, maybe, simply by offering an antidote to “crazy”?