Joe Biden seems determined to blow up his campaign before it launches. The former veep’s recent actions suggest he does not understand the central question of the 2020 primaries or the value proposition of his candidacy.
Team Biden’s trial balloon about naming Stacey Abrams as Joe’s running mate predictably exploded in their faces. Moreover, it highlighted concerns about Biden’s age and lack of wokeness. Fortunately for Joe, this sort of kerfuffle probably does not reach the average voter.
Biden’s apologies for his record, however, are getting more attention and are more dangerous to his campaign. Biden does not seem to understand the 2020 primaries are about whether the Democrats remain the next version of the Party of Obama, or lurch drastically towards socialism and identitarianism. Consequently, Biden is abandoning his strengths to play on the turf of the narrow, “upstairs” progressive elites.
Consider how Democrats like to label themselves:
— Matt Grossmann (@MattGrossmann) March 6, 2019
The top choices are “Obama Democrat,” moderate, or liberal. Progressive ranks further down, with democratic socialist and socialist near the bottom. Biden’s brand is clear and generally more popular than those of his rivals.
Many pundits believe Biden will collapse like Jeb Bush in 2016, thinking his poll lead now is simply name ID. They may be right. But that name ID is related to Barack Obama, whose administration is far more popular with Democrats now than George W. Bush’s was with the GOP in 2015. Not even Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib dare cross Obama.
Biden has plenty of goodwill among rank-and-file Democrats. In a recent focus group of African-American women likely to vote in the South Carolina primary, one said “it’s the closest we can get to a [third] term for Obama [without] electing Michelle.” The only attack that registered was the Anita Hill issue.
The focus group mostly dismissed the attacks on any of the candidates the media thinks are a big deal. Again, politics ultimately happens more in the real world than on cable news panels and social media.
Therefore, Biden should stop apologizing. Rather, if and when he launches, he should find the earliest opportunity to say something like this:
“Like all of the candidates in the race, I have apologized for some of my record. I’ve publicly apologized for not running a better hearing when Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. And I have regrets about parts of the crime bill I pushed back in 1994. Regrets are the costs of experience. If you think experience isn’t important, take a look at the White House right now.
“Despite those mistakes, Barack Obama took a very close look at me and my entire record, along with other people. Barack personally chose me to be his vice president, to work alongside him making all the tough decisions America faced in the years after the financial crisis. You know, he’s a pretty good judge of these things.
“Now, I know my friend Barack is not endorsing anyone in the primaries; that’s fine. I think he understands trying to play kingmaker can backfire.
“Also, I have learned from experience. This is why I championed the Violence Against Women Act and campaign against campus sexual assault today. It’s why I worked to reform the sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine. I am sure the other candidates feel the same way about their records. We cannot change the past, but we can learn and work to make tomorrow better.
“I know there are people in the media who think I have no business running. But if we’re going to judge people’s records, we should look at how pundits have done recently. In 2016, they told us Donald Trump was not a serious candidate. They gave him billions in free TV time. Then they told everyone Trump had almost no shot to win, which probably depressed our turnout.
“Did they learn anything from 2016? Since the midterms, the media has promoted a few Democrats from safe seats—and some losing candidates—as the future of our party. Our party is a big tent. But our House majority was built by dozens of moderates flipping seats from red to blue all over this country, especially in the Midwest, in states like Iowa. If we want to win in 2020, we must win states we lost last time. I don’t hear the media explaining how the other candidates in this race are going to do that.
“Some pundits claim to know exactly who the base of our party is. But I think Democrats are going to look at my entire record—and others’ records—with the maturity that Barack Obama did. Democrats care more about building a better America than digging through our high school yearbooks. And in the fall of 2020, Democrats are going to want a heavyweight standing toe-to-toe with Trump on that debate stage. And that’s why I’m going to be our party’s nominee next year.”
There are risks to baiting the establishment media, but acceptable ones. Those attacking Biden for being a white man will continue to do so. If he personally apologizes to Hill, they will move the goal posts. The woke faction is going to kick Joe in his gleaming choppers no matter what. The rest of Big Media is going to suddenly realize “What, Me Too?” Joe was always a bit creepy and a gaffe machine. Biden cannot hope to be the media’s darling.
Instead, Biden should remind Democrats why they like him, and everyone else that he is the big dog in the race—because he is until proven otherwise. Democrats love their betas, but when beating Donald Trump is the endgame, the alpha candidate is going to look pretty good.
To the chagrin of the left, Democrats often pick the “electable” candidate against a GOP incumbent. The issue being tested is whether they want to rerun George McGovern’s 1972 debacle instead.
Lastly, voters like authenticity. While Biden may continue to strike woke notes to display his evolution, he generally should run as Joe Biden. If you are Biden and this is your last hurrah, would you want to lose pretending to be someone else?