Although in most polls former Vice President Joe Biden currently holds a commanding lead over his nearest competitors, U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, we can be certain that – as my sainted mother used to say – the fur will fly in the upcoming September debates among the ten candidates that will appear on stage under the Democratic National Committee rules. Mr. Biden can certainly anticipate that much of the “incoming” will be directed at him.
I hope – despite Mr. Biden’s previously lackluster debate performances, his gaffes, his pauses, and his half-correct narratives – that he wins the Democratic nomination. I continue to believe from a handicapping standpoint that he has the best chance of any likely nominee to defeat President Trump and that he has the broadest and deepest qualifications of any Democrat to address the imposing array of domestic and foreign challenges we face. That said, I have come to consider another reason equally compelling: Mr. Biden’s well-intended spirit, combined with his age and his moderate views, will give us a chance to take a breath without committing us either to continue the dark Trump agenda or to a high dive into a brave new progressive world. After the hellacious rollercoaster ride to which Mr. Trump has subjected us, we’ll need to sit on the park bench for a bit. We need an opportunity to take stock. We need a transitional administration.
Right now, Ms. Warren appears to be surging, although her advance has seemingly come with little or no diminution in Mr. Biden’s support; the two continue in different nomination “lanes”. Many, including me, have suggested that if Mr. Sanders’ support unravels, Ms. Warren will be the overwhelming beneficiary. I’m now wondering whether that was too quick a judgement. Both Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders appear to have support among white working class voters; if Mr. Sanders’ candidacy falters and his support splits between Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren, that might well assure the former Vice President of the Democratic nomination – and while likewise making clear the need to accommodate Ms. Warren’s notable following within the party.
If there is any validity to these musings, a Biden-Warren pairing might well be the Democrats’ strongest ticket to the White House. The Republicans won’t be readily able to label any ticket led by Mr. Biden as “socialist” or scary; in debates against Mr. Trump, the fatherly, reassuring Mr. Biden might well get the same benefit of the doubt from an uncertain and exhausted electorate that President Ronald Reagan enjoyed against former Vice President Walter Mondale in 1984; and Ms. Warren would seemingly fare well in a debate against the somnolent Vice President Mike Pence.
All that said, I hope that any Biden-led ticket – and its supporters – understand that scholars will very likely view a Biden presidency’s most significant achievement to be the termination of the Trump presidency. Its campaign message might be: “Setting a Clean Slate for America.” There are undoubtedly better slogans, but a President Biden would, in my view, need to project both a determination to heal the wounds of the present and an understanding of his transitional role in our history. As to the former, a Biden Administration would need to restore respect for the rule of law, competence, stability, honesty, decency, and normalcy after the malignant chaos that has characterized the Trump presidency. As to the latter, a Biden Administration should tacitly acknowledge the practical reality that even if Democrats capture a Senate majority, there will not be an appetite among a majority in Congress for the extraordinary domestic changes progressives are urging. Equally important: we are not emotionally ready for another disrupter. While working to calm our toxic political environment and steadying our course in foreign affairs, a Biden Administration should seek to provide us a clean slate so that Ms. Warren, Mr. Pence, the promising 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates, former U.S. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. FL Sen. Marco Rubio, and others from both parties who will emerge, can present us with a menu of visions for our future starting in 2025.