I’m a huge Joe Biden fan. He’s one of the most fun politicians I’ve met along the way. Of all the national Democrats out there right now, his “brand” is the easiest for me to identify with. I do believe that if nominated, he would flip Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, at least, and probably win a hard fought, narrow election. I haven’t made the leap yet to support him mostly because there are a few other candidates I like at least as much.
Joe Biden can be frustrating though. His botched flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment should have been a positive for him, and it wasn’t. The Anita Hill hearings don’t move many votes at this point, so why not admit it wasn’t your best hour and apologize to her. This guy is plenty progressive enough on the issues, for me to vote for him in a general election, but why not just address the easy stuff, and show people how decades in the Senate and eight years as Vice-President caused you to grow?
I generally admire that Joe Biden has some bi-partisan street cred, but I find myself flummoxed by his recent talk that Republicans “will change” with Trump gone. Biden was Vice-President in the Obama Administration, the first administration in my lifetime to get absolutely zero bi-partisan assistance. Yes, Biden has a commanding personality, but why does he think that will move them more as President than it did as Veep?
I’ve thought about it a bit, and tried to get into his head. I’ve come up with a few potential reasonings in his head for this.
- Joe Biden knows the GOP can’t be eliminated from American politics, so he will try to do outreach, however futile it seems. A lot of Democrats have spent the last decade predicting the GOP’s doom. The results? Donald Trump, eight years of House control, and going on six years of Senate control. Massive control over the states, and gerrymandering to accompany that. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. How’s that “destiny” coming along? Demographic and voting trends are coming together to produce over three dozen states where the GOP could build durable majorities. Their judicial control could last a long time too. The Republican Party not only isn’t dead yet, but won’t be any time soon. Knowing that something will always exist in the conservative space of American politics, Biden is seeking some level of influence over it. The culture wars of American politics, at least since 1968, have energized conservatism and divided Democrats. Biden is trying to calm some nerves and perhaps make defending Trump less essential to moderates and marginal conservative voters.
- The last 50 years of social warfare have been bad for the country, and for the Democrats- so he’s going to try to stop the fall. From Richard Nixon forward, American government has been less and less effective. Since at least 1994, gridlock has been the natural status quo in Congress. Not coincidentally, the power of the Democratic Party has become less and less. Democrats have been characterized as social change agents during this time period, and it has resulted in pretty consistent conservative governance. With his “return to normalcy” message, Biden believes he can dull that Republican advantage. He hopes that the momentum from winning this way will allow him to govern the country as President. His hope is that this gives an out for “his friends” across the aisle to work with him on some things. Wishful? Sure. But, not entirely insane.
- He understands the Democratic Party has about half it’s voters who want to turn the political temperature down. About half of Democratic voters want a moderate nominee for President. Many of us absolutely recoil when we hear AOC being put forward as the voice of the party. There are absolutely a lot of voters in the party who felt left out of the 2016 primary war between various leftward factions, and they *may* be enough to constitute the base of a nominated candidate. By simply not chasing Bernie ad the field left, Biden can essentially get them by default. Only one or two other candidates are even really trying to court them.
- He knows the people unhappy with him aren’t his primary voters anyway. Let’s be honest, if you said you’d never vote for a white man in 2020, or that President Obama didn’t push far enough left, or you’re generally a Twitter activist, Joe Biden was never going to be your first choice for President. Wasting his time pandering for votes he’s not getting anyway would probably only increase the acrimony. His hope is that he can build a plurality for now, and achieve a majority once the field shrinks to two or three candidates. It’s really his only pathway to the nomination.
- There were Trump voters who just couldn’t quite stomach Hillary, and his strategy is to win them. Winning the primaries and losing the general election isn’t all that appealing for a former Vice-President. He has to think about a general election too. In 2016, Donald Trump out performed both his poll numbers and his approval polling on election day. This means there was at least some portion of his 46% that weren’t proud of their vote, they just picked Trump over Hillary Clinton. Polling suggests Trump’s current popularity is around 41-42% of the electorate. Even if Biden wins over 20% of that swing-Trump vote, that could flip anywhere from three to six states. This may not be the “cool” strategy of the Democratic Party right now, but it’s a very viable one.
Now, these are just my guesses on what drives Biden’s politics, however frustrating as they are. It is quite possible that his play to the center of political life in America will ultimately cost him this nomination, even if he really has thought this out this far. With this said, I think it’s important that even those who want someone more progressive at least think through why Biden may be being Biden. By my estimation, there are only four or five candidates I think we can nominate for President that have any chance of being elected. Most of the country is not a Democratic Primary election. Do I particularly believe he can suddenly make the GOP behave in a sane, decent way that it hasn’t since pre-Nixon? I’m suspicious as hell. I’m also suspicious though that the Democratic Party will be a national party in 20 years fighting a culture war. No middle ground might sound nice, but it’s a political dead end.