At what I think is the current count, the field of Democrats seeking the party’s 2020 Presidential nomination now exceeds 20. We are all exhausted. As those that are interested are already aware, a minority of the declared candidates are seemingly starting to separate themselves from the rest of the pack by dint of campaign contributions and relatively more favorable poll numbers; some may, realistically, be running for the party’s Vice Presidential nomination; some may be running for President in 2024 or 2028; many are apparently running because their egos, spouses or mothers have told them that they’d make a good President.
I would offer that one stands apart from the rest: former Vice President Joe Biden.
Several months ago, I listed the measures I consider most germane to assessing a candidate’s strength and suitability for the presidency: the requisite knowledge and experience; the ability to look strong on the stage against the President; not an “identity” candidate; not a shiny new toy; not an overtly progressive candidate; likeability; and possessed of credible plans to address the needs of a large segment of our economically desperate people. In reviewing them, one might surmise that I had Mr. Biden in mind when I developed them. I didn’t, specifically; but he best fits them.
First, as to substance. I would suggest that among the announced candidates (for these purposes, including President Trump), Mr. Biden is the only one unquestionably qualified to conduct the presidency. He has a deep knowledge of both domestic and foreign policy. He has the standing to assure our allies, give our adversaries pause, and reinfuse some vigor to the world’s liberal democratic order. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t fully embraced progressive positions such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and Free Public College; as such, I would submit that his sentiments are more in tune with the preferences of the majority of our people than those of the zealots on either the left or right. He is obviously conversant with the levers of power in Congress, and he would seem to be as adept as any candidate will be in achieving progress in our hyper-partisan environment. He is likeable and upbeat, and Americans have consistently shown themselves willing to follow a President that casts a sunny vision.
From a handicapping standpoint, Mr. Biden has the gravitas to hold the stage against the President; facing the President, his advanced age won’t be a drawback; he has a sufficiently-established public identity that Mr. Trump and his cohort won’t be able to define him; he maintains a broad reservoir of good feeling among a wide swath of our people combined with a low antipathy quotient – i.e., few of our people actively dislike him; he has appeal amongst Mr. Trump’s working class constituency; and he’s not an identity candidate, but will undoubtedly receive the full support of identity-focused Democrats in a race against Mr. Trump. If, as I have put forth in other posts, the 2020 candidate that wins Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin will win the presidency, Mr. Biden – from Scranton, PA, and a former Delaware Senator, will almost certainly claim Pennsylvania, has deep long-standing union support that will help him in Michigan, and is the kind of decent, centrist candidate with whom (speaking as a Wisconsinite) Wisconsin citizens are comfortable. At the same time, he is obviously the antithesis of the shiny new toy, and he and his long record are susceptible to attack under progressive shibboleths such as crime (too harsh), Iraq (supported the invasion), the environment (not idealistic enough; too practical) and his propensity to “invade” others’ personal space.
In a note a while back, I indicated my strong affinity for the candidacy of MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and on the merits, I still see much to recommend her. That said: she is currently polling under 2% nationally and, most chilling for her prospects, at 3.3% in her neighbor state of Iowa, where I believe she must do very well to have a realistic chance at the nomination. In a bit of a lament, I would suggest that unless she rallies significantly in the next 7 months, she’ll be done by March 1.
As the race has shaped up, I’ve been a bit surprised that some of our more avidly progressive friends, while having great aspirations for our nation and the world, appear unaware that some of their positions are as far from mainstream American sentiment – the sentiment that generally elects Presidents — as are the views of our staunchly conservative friends that abhor business regulation, oppose all abortion on moral grounds, and favor a largely unfettered right to assault weapons on constitutional principle. If the Democratic Party nominates a candidate generally perceived as being too far to the left, progressives need to recognize that a certain number of centrists may well choose to retain Mr. Trump.
In a passage I’ve recorded once before in these pages [and pledge to try to restrain myself from repeating too many times in the coming months :)], David Halberstam wrote this in The Best and The Brightest about then-MA Sen. John F. Kennedy’s assessment of his chances for winning the Democratic Party nomination in 1960:
“[The liberal intellectual wing of the party was] not only dubious of [Kennedy] but staunchly loyal to Adlai Stevenson after those two gallant and exhilarating defeats. That very exhilaration had left the Kennedys, particularly Robert Kennedy, with a vague suspicion that liberals would rather lose gallantly than win pragmatically ….”
Hopefully, the majority of Democrats will keep in mind that this election, and our world’s situation, are too important to indulge in ideological fratricide that could result in the President’s reelection. For reasons of substance and politics – and subject to a seemingly unlikely campaign resurrection by Sen. Klobuchar — I’m for Joe …