Joe Biden the Uniter

His electability has likely been oversold, but he is more likely to unite the country than any other politician.

In 2016, Donald Trump won 68.5 percent of the vote in West Virginia to Hillary Clinton’s 26.4 percent. It was Trump’s biggest margin of victory in the country. Yet, on the very same day, Jim Justice was elected as governor with a 49 percent plurality. He ran as a Democrat but switched his party affiliation to Republican on August 3, 2017. Democrats can still win statewide races in West Virginia, but it’s a lot more comfortable to be allied with the president.

Senator Joe Manchin was twice elected governor before winning Robert Byrd’s vacant seat in 2010. He’s clearly popular with his constituents, but he has to walk a fine line. In 2012, he declined to endorse Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. In 2016, he came close to un-endorsing Hillary Clinton over comments she made about the future of the coal industry. After Trump won his state with nearly 70 percent of the vote, there was some talk in 2017 of Manchin joining his administration, and many have doubted that he would endorse the Democratic presidential nominee in 2020.

If the progressive left is unenthusiastic about Joe Biden, that hasn’t prevented Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren from giving him their full-throated stamp of approval. And he can now expect to get the same from Joe Manchin:

Sen. Joe Manchin will endorse Joe Biden for president, putting to bed any thought that he might not support the Democratic presidential nominee this time around.

The conservative West Virginia Democrat said in an interview on Thursday that he’s working with Biden, the presumptive nominee, on an endorsement that will come in tandem with a plan to help shield his state from job loss…

…Manchin has been talking to the Biden campaign since the former vice president won South Carolina’s primary, and said he feels comfortable with Biden and his outreach to Appalachia, where energy jobs are a key part of the economy and politics. Asked on Thursday whether he’d endorse Biden, Manchin replied: “I will, absolutely.”

“I’m just trying to make sure that we’re working through a plan,” he said. “I’ve been working and talking to different people. We’re definitely getting there. You just can’t leave people behind that did the heavy lifting and that’s worked hard, whether it’s producing coal or producing energy for this country. They just need an opportunity to live their lives and have that opportunity. And I think Joe Biden understands that.”

Biden won the Democratic primaries based largely on the perception that he was the most “electable” candidate. I’m not sure people always had a clear picture of what they meant by that term or why they felt that Biden had an advantage over his competitors. But one thing he’s already putting on display is an ability to almost effortlessly bring together the Democratic Party after a rough primary season.

You can see that Manchin is looking to get something in return for his endorsement. In this, he is no different from Bernie Sanders or any of the other candidates. But the important thing is that Manchin feels he can vocally support Biden without it costing him his career. He didn’t feel that way when he shared a ballot with Obama in 2012 as he sought a full six-year term in the U.S. Senate, and he was probably right. If he had been on the ticket in 2016, he almost surely would have un-endorsed Clinton. It’s highly doubtful that he would have endorsed Bernie Sanders if he become the party’s nominee.

One of the keys to Biden’s appeal as a candidate is precisely that there are no areas of the country where he’s toxic. In this, he is partially advantaged simply by not being a woman or a racial minority. His Catholicism is less of a political liability than Mitt Romney’s Mormanism or Sander’s secular Judaism. But it’s not so much his identity, nor is it his ideology, that makes Biden so widely acceptable. It’s really just his personality and his way of going about things. He doesn’t make enemies and he doesn’t alienate a lot of people with his rhetoric. Most of the people who will vote against Joe Biden would vote against any Democrat, and that includes most of the people carping about him on the left.

This is Biden’s great electoral strength, but it has its downsides. He has trouble arousing enthusiasm, donations, and volunteers because he doesn’t fire people up with red meat. His policies may not be offensive, but they’re also lacking ambition, and this has left the struggling younger generations feeling cold. In truth, he’s running to the left of both Obama and Clinton, but this can get lost because he undersells his progressivism with a mind to winning crossover votes in the general election.

His comparative electability has probably been oversold, as most polls have shown him performing about the same or only modestly better against Trump as Sanders. But there’s little doubt that he’s more of a uniter. He’s uniting the party, and he’ll have better prospects of uniting the country than any other politician I can think of right now.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com