With Joe Biden Democrats Risk 2016 Repeat
Biden’s call for America to “return to normal” highlights his liability as the potential Democratic Nominee.
It was clear long before Joe Biden’s official declaration to run for president, that he is the lead contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Both Democratic and national polls have consistently shown that he is, to date, the unquestioned front-runner. The numbers have him ahead of his fellow Democratic contenders and leading Trump in a theoretical 2020 match-up.
Indeed, some within both the media and the Democratic establishment are treating Biden as the de facto presidential nominee. Despite having more competition, it is reminiscent of how Secretary Clinton was treated in 2015 and 2016, and it is worrying.
While Clinton won the Democratic nomination, the strong performance of Senator Sanders and her stunning electoral college defeat to Trump, should have acted as a wake-up call to the Democratic Party that Americans want change.
Many voters saw both Sanders and Trump as political outsiders. Two candidates who promised to shake up the political establishment in Washington; an establishment that increasingly leaves the best interests of everyday Americans behind.
Clinton’s biggest challenges in the 2016 campaign were not just the unprecedented interference from Russia, the obsession about her emails, the heavily misogynistic media, or the two rivals on either side often refusing to play fair. It was the perception of her as an establishment candidate representing the status quo that drove many away.
Her previous experiences as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State in normal times should have served as a great asset, but in 2016 when Americans were frustrated and outright angry at being left behind by the Washington establishment, her experience worked against her.
Three years later there are worrying parallels with the high probability of Biden’s selection as Democratic nominee.
It is understandable why some Democrats are attracted to Biden. Like Clinton, Biden has universal name recognition and is well-liked by the U.S.’s allies abroad — granted, that’s easy given Trump’s strained relations with the leaders of most Western democracies. He’s also viewed as a bridge builder being able to reach out to Republicans while also having a reputation as a fighter.
There is also a great deal of nostalgia surrounding him given his role in President Obama’s administration. Giving into this nostalgia, however, could prove a fatal mistake for Democrats.
There are those within the party who view Obama’s term as something of a golden age. While President Obama is a great man and one of the finest presidents America has ever had, some Americans have mixed feelings about what his administration actually accomplished.
Some Americans feel life is harder than it was when Obama came to Office in 2009. They do not look back and idolize the Obama era and neither should the Democrats.
While the blame for the increasing inequalities in America falls to both political parties, it’s the Democrats more than the Republicans who appear, rightfully or not, to have run out of ideas and keep falling back to the neoliberal ‘status quo.’
Trump’s popularity rests, in part, with his constant breaking of the political rule book. He defied all expectations by taking the Republican Party in a direction so far removed from where it was in 2012, his supporters saw this a sign that he would bring real change. Of course, the change he has brought is mostly for his own personal benefit.
Biden’s position as Obama’s Vice-President presents an easy target for the Trump campaign. It will rally Trump’s base around him, painting Biden as Obama-lite. Indeed, some reports suggest Biden is the Republican’s favorite opponent as mud might stick to him better than to Sanders or even Warren.
Biden also has strong connections to Wall Street, a strong pro-war record, allegations of inappropriate contact with women, and is remembered for his misogynistic treatment of Anita Hill. There is also the additional issue of his age as he will be 77 by the 2021 inauguration. In short, there are numerous angles from which both the GOP and far-left can attack him.
While Biden is arguably more charismatic and comfortable campaigning than Clinton, he has a propensity for putting his foot in his mouth.
Update: Literally the day after I published this piece, Biden’s was in hot water for an off the cuff remark he made about youth in America. Biden said,
“The younger generation now tells me how tough things are, give me a break … I have no empathy”
When he launched his campaign Biden said,
“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”
The problem is Trump has already altered America and it’s too late to go back. Simply attacking Trump while not offering alternatives will not win the 2020 election. This lesson should have been learned after 2016.
While Clinton had a fully realized and costed platform, her campaign was unable to communicate them in a way that engaged voters. Instead, much of the focus centered on reasons not to vote for Trump.
America is at a cross-roads and there are only two paths opened. One is a continued shift to the right under Trump. A shift that alienates and otherizes minorities and continues to exploit working Americans for the benefit of the wealthy. Or another path to the left that should aim at giving everyone a fair chance to make a good life for themselves.
The middle path representing political centralism is gone. Voters are increasingly taking drastic turns to the right or left, and the Democratic Party must do the same.
It is the recognition of this need for transformation that sees many of Biden’s opponents gaining enthusiastic followers. Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg in particular have energized bases who see their candidate as something different — an agent of change.
Warren and Sanders represent a complete shaking-up of corporate America, while Buttigieg represents a generational changing of the guard.
While Biden is leading in the polls, the lack of enthusiasm surrounding his campaign eerily mirrors Clinton’s 2016 bid.
Biden does have a strong shot at winning, along with most Democratic contenders, but he must find a way to present himself as the candidate of change. The question is can he or does he want to do this?
Sadly Biden appears to be firmly lining himself up with the past:
“America’s coming back like we used to be — ethical, straight, telling the truth … supporting our allies, all those good things.”
While repairing relations with America’s allies must be a top priority for the first post-Trump president, the phrase “come back like we used to be” is troubling.
Despite the lessons of 2016, the Democratic establishment appears to be rolling out the carpet for Biden as the 2020 nominee. In doing so, they are taking a big gamble that could lead to an even more shocking defeat than 2016's.
Only time will tell if the Democrats are on the cusp of making the same mistake twice.