Joe Biden started spouting nonsense about his background again this week. Trying to sound all man of the people, he told a rally in Ohio that he would be the first president ‘in 80 or 90 years’ who did not attend one of those fancy Ivy League schools. Well no, Joe — Reagan didn’t go to an Ivy, nor did Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Eisenhower, Truman or Hoover. Joe also likes to claim that he is ‘the first in his family to go to college’. It’s a line he famously pilfered in 1987 from a Neil Kinnock speech. It also happens to be untrue.
Three decades ago, people cared when Biden lied. Now nobody cares. It’s hard to oppose, let alone revile, a man who no longer seems to have any idea of what he is saying. Biden lost contact with reality years ago; maybe we did too. On Monday, he forgot the name of Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 — ‘the senator who was a Mormon, the governor, OK?’ Later he declared, for the second time this year, that he was a ‘proud Democrat running for the Senate’. Pssst, Joe, it’s the presidency you’re after — the Senate was in 1973. Biden makes similar or worse gaffes almost every day on the campaign trail. Never mind — he’s still going to be the 46th President of the United States, unless those polls are wildly wrong again.
Americans will vote for Biden, we’re told, because they crave a ‘return to normalcy’ after four mad years under President Donald J. Trump. But what’s normal or sane about giving a somewhat demented 77-year-old the most powerful job on the planet? Leading the free world shouldn’t be a retirement activity, yet nobody who has been paying attention can expect Biden to serve even one full term. It’s more likely that he will end up delegating his more arduous tasks to his vice president Kamala Harris. Republican talking heads like to make out that the ‘Kamala and the radical left’ will depose their frail leader as soon as possible. In July, former New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg wrote that ‘within a few months of assuming the presidency, Biden will find himself being the next statue toppled as the socialist/progressive movement moves closer to power’. The woke devils, Gregg suggested, would oust Biden by triggering the 25th Amendment, through which an incapacitated president can be removed. ‘It will be a coup,’ he said.
That may be hysterical. Yet it’s easy to imagine Harris gradually taking over a Biden White House, as the ailing Commander-in-Chief plods about the East Wing in his slippers telling anyone who’ll listen that he used to be Barack Obama’s vice president back in the day. Almost nobody expects Biden, who will be 82 by inauguration day in 2025, to attempt a second term. What’s striking is quite how many Americans seem to be happy to elect such a figure so long as it means four fewer years of Donald Trump.
But Biden isn’t just winning this election because people despise Trump. He’s winning because he isn’t all that left-wing and he’s more likable than Hillary Clinton. Lots of Americans were willing to believe that Mrs Clinton had a secret plan to turn their great country into a socialist hellhole. They just don’t think Biden will do that — at least not on purpose. Again, his age helps here: when he intones radical pieties about ‘transforming’ America or dismantling white privilege, he sounds like a priest talking about grime music. People think he can’t really mean it.
Biden’s moderate instincts — finely honed over four decades in Washington — usually prevent him from sounding too dangerously progressive. He took too long to condemn the violent riots that began as Black Lives Matter protests, but he didn’t go along with the electorally suicidal ‘Defund the Police’ slogan that many in his party took as gospel over the summer. He sounds very open-minded about transgendered people, but he’s skeptical about cannabis legalization. He’s a centrist granddad. Biden plans to spend an additional seven trillion dollars to address the COVID crisis. At the same time, he promises he won’t raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 a year. Nobody quite believes his sums add up, and polls suggest Americans believe Trump would handle the economy better. Still, more than 50 percent of Americans now seem to want Biden in charge.
The idea that, under Biden, America might revert to ‘normalcy’ — such an odd word — is not based on any faith in his leadership. It’s more an assumption that, in terms of governance, Biden’s America would default to its pre-Trump settings and everything might calm down. ‘It will be back to business as usual — for better and worse,’ is how one experienced Democratic operative put it to me this week.
Biden 2020 is in many ways the Obama restoration project. Obama-era figures are likely to dominate his future cabinet: Susan Rice, the former ambassador to the United Nations, is tipped to be his secretary of state. That aristocratic dinosaur John Kerry, who served as Obama’s secretary of state, is expected to be given some big advisory role. Michèle Flournoy, formerly the under secretary of defense, could be promoted to secretary of defense.
As soon as Trump became Commander-in-Chief, he gleefully set about undoing Barack Obama’s proudest international achievements. Team Obama must now be salivating at the prospect of their imminent revenge. Expect the Iran Deal, which Trump tore up, to be stitched back together. A Biden-Harris administration would also, amid much fanfare, reenter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and shove America back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump’s more disruptive ‘America First’ policies will be taken out back and strangled.
It won’t just be cocktail hour at Davos, though. Unlike most machine Democrats, Team Biden has been shrewd enough to accept some of Trump’s political victories and to understand that a winning presidential candidate must speak to families in rust-belt states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. That’s why Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ manifesto — a slogan pinched from Boris Johnson — includes a ‘buy American’ pledge to expand federal commitments to procure goods made only in the USA. It’s also why Biden has conceded that Trump’s United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement is ‘better than’ Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement, which he supported in 1993. Trump’s replacement deal includes more provisions to protect American workers and unions. Maybe old Joe isn’t as dotty as he looks.
‘Beijing Biden’ — as Trumpists call him — will probably take a softer approach towards China than Trump, who incurred the wrath of Wall Street by demanding a more reciprocal trading relationship between America and the world’s number two superpower. After the pandemic, however, mistrust of China has spread far and wide. Future US administrations will have to stand up to Beijing far more than vice president Biden did in the first half of the 2010s. There will be no going back to the global order before Trump.
On the domestic front, if the Democrats keep the House (likely) and win the Senate (possible) on November 3, Biden could indeed be pulled hard left by the activist wing of his party. But that seems unlikely. The Democratic establishment still has enough clout and financial backing to keep the insurgents at bay.
Without the binding force of shared Trump hatred, however, a Biden-Harris administration might very quickly start to resemble the tail end of the Obama-Biden years. This week @realDonaldTrump summed up the election nicely on Twitter, as he often does. ‘Remember,’ he tweeted, ‘I wouldn’t be president now had Obama and Biden properly done their job. The fact is, they were TERRIBLE!!!’ The trouble for the President, it seems, is that most Americans do remember. Still, they want Trump gone.
Presidential elections aren’t meant to be referendums on the man in the White House. The successful challenger ought to have his or her own vision for America. The last three one-term presidents were replaced by politicians with bold agendas; Hoover lost to Franklin D. Roosevelt; Carter to Reagan; and George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton. Biden offers little beyond a geriatric rerun of the Obama administration with memory lapses instead of pretty speeches. You don’t need an Ivy League degree to see that’s a recipe for failure.