Former vice president Joe Biden formally entered the Democratic
primary race last week to instant frontrunner status and a massive $6.3
million fundraising haul in his first 24 hours. Yet despite the fact that
Biden leads in virtually every poll, has just proven his ability to generate
cash, has broad name recognition as a former vice president and senator, and is
an experienced campaigner with few surprises in his closet, many Democrats are
less than thrilled with the prospect of a Biden candidacy.
Among the unhappy Democrats was one of my cousins, who describes
herself as “a lot more leftist than your garden variety Dem.” A Bernie Sanders supporter, she shared an
article, “Joe Biden Is a Disaster Waiting to Happen,” from a liberal website, Jacobinmag.com,
on her Facebook page last week, which sparked an enlightening discussion about
the relative merits of “Scrappy Joe.” The problem that my cousin and the author
of the article had was not Biden’s creepy, handsy behavior or his track record
of gaffes, but that he isn’t liberal enough. Citing “Biden’s record on busing,
mass incarceration, neoliberal economics, war and civil liberties, abortion, or
immigration,” she said that Biden should “should run as a Republican.”
My cousin’s opinion on Biden seems widely held among
Democrats. He is taking heat from many segments of the Democratic Party on
issues ranging from his treatment
of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings to his friendship with
Republicans and endorsement
of Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican as well as his policies which,
although they seem liberal to conservative observers, look relatively
conservative when compared to the other Democratic candidates. After a career
that began in the Senate in 1973, a period in which the United States has
undergone massive changes, Biden has done and said a lot that is out of step
with modern Democrats.
“He’s been a corporate Democrat for years, and I think the
Democratic Party is recognizing that our nominee and our party moving forward
really has to be prepared to challenge the D.C. power structure,” Democracy for
America Chairman Charles Chamberlain told Politico.
“The wheels are going to come off the cart.”
In a lot of ways, the 2020 Democratic primary is shaping up
to resemble the 2016 Republican race. There is a bevy of candidates that better
represent the beliefs of the liberal Democratic base just as a large number of
Republican candidates vied for the support of traditional Republicans. The
problem for liberal activists is that those candidates are all competing for the
support of the same voters while Biden, like Donald Trump in 2020, dominates
his niche of the party, the blue collar moderate.
In Trump’s case, he was able to secure the Republican
nomination with only 44
percent of the Republican primary vote. Even in the closing days of the
primary, Ted Cruz and John Kasich split the anti-Trump vote, allowing Trump to
win a plurality in most states. A similar path may be open for Biden who has consistently
polled at about 30 percent.
Joe Biden also has another advantage in support from
crossover Republicans. On Facebook and Twitter, I regularly see posts from ideological
refugees from the Trumpist Republican Party who are excited to vote for Joe
Biden. In fact, ex-Republicans seem more excited about Biden’s candidacy than
my Democrat acquaintances. Particularly in states with open primaries, Biden
may well see a surge from Republicans who are unhappy with President Trump.
This is especially likely if there is no serious Republican primary challenge
to the president.
The big question is whether disaffected Democrats will stay
home if Biden is the nominee. In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s uninspiring campaign
led many Democrats, particularly those who had supported Bernie in the primary,
to stay home on election night. FiveThirtyEight points out that there were enough of these nonvoters to sway the election.
The Trump campaign shouldn’t count on Democrats staying home
next year, however. Despite Biden’s unpopularity with many in the party’s
activist base, dislike for Trump runs much higher than dislike for Biden. Few
would be willing to take the chance on re-electing the president by sitting out
the election or voting for a third-party candidate like the Green Party’s Jill
Stein from the last election. Again the situation mirrors 2016 in which
Republicans were underwhelmed by Donald Trump but rallied around him with the
rationale that “at least he’s not Hillary.”
My cousin probably speaks for many Democrats when she says, “I
could take literally any other Democratic candidate other than Joe, but I will
vote for him if I have to.”
To put it another way, at least he’s not Trump.