‘Biden is their nominee until further notice,’ a source close to the White House told me recently. The candidacy of Joe Biden, and his ballistic rise in the polls, has suddenly made the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination seem far less competitive than everybody had assumed.
Biden always seemed a blue-chip entrant. He was the principal lieutenant of the first African American president. He had north of four decades’ worth of national name recognition. For months, however, a sense that time had passed him by pervaded his primaveral flirtations.
No more. Having formally announced last month, Biden has – to the surprise of most of the smart set – effectively lapped his nearest competitor, Bernie Sanders, in opinion polling. Biden was in the lead before the race, but he wasn’t in control of the race. He is now.
President Trump has wasted no time in attacking ‘Sleepy Joe’, a sign, surely, that he takes the challenge seriously.
‘And don’t forget: Biden deserted you,’ Trump said in Pennsylvania Monday. ‘He’s not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here, but he left you folks. He left you for another state. Remember that, please. I meant to say that. This guy talks about, “Oh, I know Scranton.” Well, I know the places better. He left you for another state, and he didn’t take care of you, because he didn’t take care of your jobs. He let other countries come in and rip off America.’
That’s fighting talk, and a taste of a vicious election year to come. Biden versus Trump suddenly seems inevitable, and it’s going to be a bruising contest. Biden’s romp up the polls is remarkable because so many failed to see it coming. President Obama has a near-familial relationship with his veep, but he never seemed altogether convinced that Joe was cut from presidential cloth. Obama gently nudged Biden out of the 2016 race. Even following the embarrassing 2016 result, the 44th president’s first inclination was to pump up Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, in his exit interview with David Remnick in The New Yorker. Obama also stood by as Eric Holder, his controversial first attorney general, courted the Obama donor network, before concluding he had little path forward. Clearly, Obama never bought into Joementum.
But Joementum we have, and it seems unstoppable. The White House thinks so, its allies think so, and a previously resurgent left fears a rout. ‘For months I’ve been saying Bernie can win because he has the largest base in a crowded field. But right now it looks like Biden has, by far, the largest base in a crowded field,’ said David Klion, eminence grise of the internet left and editor at Jewish Currents. ‘He doesn’t need a majority. No one does.’
Even though the polls screamed that Biden could triumph, much of the commentariat, left and right, couldn’t see it coming. Commentators tend to obsess over young voters, but the relative paucity of support for Sanders, the runner-up from the 2016 Democratic race, has exposed the limits of millennial political power. Biden, by contrast, thrives with lazy dismissals of millennial woes.
‘The younger generation now tells me how tough things are, give me a break,’ Biden said recently. ‘I have no empathy.’
That sort of language is more popular with Democratic voters than most pundits realize.