I agree with Charles Pierce that a Joe Biden candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination will badly divide the left. I agree that one of the main bones of contention will be Biden’s extensive record in Congress, particularly the latter two decades of his career as a senator from Delaware. I agree that Biden will get torn up over his handling of Anita Hill’s testimony during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. I agree that he’ll be dragged across some of the same well-raked coals used to roast Hillary Clinton, like the 1994 crime bill and the war in Iraq. I even agree that by generation, race, and gender, Biden will not satisfy that thirst many have for a new kind of leadership. But that’s where my agreement with Pierce ends.
First, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea for Biden to seek the nomination. Second, it’s a total exaggeration to declare that he “has a track record that puts him on the wrong side of every issue that currently energizes his political party.” Third, I think his performance as a presidential candidate in 1988 and in 2008 is almost completely irrelevant now in light of his performance as a candidate for vice-president. Fourth, I believe it’s tremendously inaccurate to suggest that Biden’s appeal is limited to being “a beloved figure among the pundit class, as well as among many of the old-line money people who currently are trembling at new forces that they do not understand.” In truth, Joe Biden is beloved figure period, which is probably his best argument for being the nominee.
As I wrote yesterday, the Democrats should have the opportunity to win a landslide election in 2020 reminiscent of 1932, 1972, or 1984. But to accomplish that, they’ll need the GOP to continue its headlong charge into the threshing blades, and they’ll need a candidate who is beloved (or, at least, widely trusted) by most of the country. Joe Biden currently fits that bill better than anyone else who is reported to be in the running, and yes, part of that is his popularity with the pundit class.
But it’s not just the pundit class, nor just his support among establishment Republicans. Joe Biden is immensely popular among mainstream Democratic voters, which is why he has the early lead in the polls. Yes, it’s true that early polls are heavily influenced by name recognition, but people certainly are familiar with Bernie Sanders. Biden leads him 30 percent to 14 percent in the most recent CNN poll. No one else is in double figures.
It’s not hard to surmise that Biden has a lot of support from people who strongly approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, meaning that he can count on getting a lot of votes from the black community. His close friendship with Obama and his loyal record of service in his administration is going to mean a lot more than his votes as a senator in the 1990s.
He may not be the right person for the times. He could be just a bit too old. He could be out of step with the Democratic primary voter. But he could also be the exact kind of figure that the country could really rally around in a general election matchup against whatever smoking husk of the Republican Party remains in 2020.
If nothing else, he’s earned the right to run for president without being dismissed as nothing more than a retread. I am confident that most Democrats will give him the respect he deserves, even if he cannot ultimately persuade them to give him the nomination.