A new Monmouth poll out yesterday showed Joe Biden in third place at 19 percent, a point behind Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both at 20 percent. It is the first poll that has shown him as anything but a strong frontrunner.
Now, the poll had a small sample size and large margin of error. It may well be an outlier. A CNN poll just last week had Biden doubling the numbers of both far-left senators. But it is nonetheless telling.
Biden lost support among moderate and conservative Democrats, who switched their allegiance to the more overtly socialist septuagenarians. A likely explanation for this shift is that those moderates don’t see Biden as substantially different from Warren and Sanders anymore, because thus far he has basically presented himself as a progressive.
Not only has Biden apologized for half the things he achieved in his decades-long career, he has embraced ideas that 1990’s Joe Biden, or even 2008’s Barack Obama, would have derided as absurd. One clear example is one of the most telling and talked about moments of the Democratic primary debates thus far.
During one of the Democratic police line-ups, all of the candidates were asked if they support government-provided, cost-free health care for illegal immigrants. All of the candidates rushed to raise their hands, except for Biden, who bent his elbow, half raised his hand and put a finger up, as if to say, “Yes, but…” It was a bad mistake emblematic of the errors in his candidacy thus far.
The strong move for Biden in that moment would have been to keep his palms planted on the podium, and, as the only dissenter, to talk about how Democrats need real ideas that Americans support, not leftist fantasies about giving people here illegally benefits that citizens don’t even get. Such a move would have been a service not just to his candidacy, but to the entire Democratic Party.
Democratic voters in Texas, Ohio, and Indiana, are not the same as Democratic voters in New York, California, and Massachusetts. Biden all along has had the chance to be the guy saying “This is isn’t about privilege theory, its not about transgender people having abortions, its about jobs and wars and the opioid crisis.”
So why hasn’t he done that? The simplest and most likely reason is that he and his team took moderate voters for granted. It’s kind of easy to see why, since no other major Democrat running, even ones like Beto O’Rourke who could have, chose to challenge Biden in the moderate lane. So it was wide open. It belonged to him, or so it seemed.
Operating under that assumption it made some sense to shift to the left, if he could hold that moderate base and chip away some farther left support from everyone else Biden could build a bigger lead, maybe even approach 50 percent in polling and look like an unstoppable machine. But it does not appear that this strategy has been working.
Even setting aside the new poll as an outlier, Biden has not made inroads among progressive voters. He has, up until now, held a steady flatline of support as the fates of those below him ebb and flow. But now, even worse, it seems the moderates might be walking out of his tent, and it makes sense why.
If Biden is not the realist who will speak truth to leftist power in the party, then what makes him a better choice for moderates than Warren and Sanders, who do draw a lot water in far-left circles? If he’s going to mirror them, then why not just vote for them?
President Trump has often been criticized for playing too strongly to his base. But the base matters, as Biden is finding out. American voters are loyal not to people, but to policies and ideas. When Biden abandoned the policies and ideas he has fought for his whole career, he turned his back on his base. And it seems that chicken is coming home to roost.
Trump understands that politics is transactional. Most moderate Republicans roll their eyes at Trump’s more direct and obvious red meat appeals to his base, but will still vote for him over Democrats who make Vladimir Lenin look like William F. Buckley. And had Biden stuck to actual moderation, he would have maintained his huge advantage among moderates, and still have won the votes of deeper leftists in a potential general election.
Is it possible for Biden to pivot back to the center? Maybe, but it won’t be easy. The progressive Kool-Aid leaves stains that don’t come out. And we may have reached the point where Biden is losing more moderate Democrats than his candidacy can afford.