Joe Biden seems on the verge of announcing he will run for president. He begins in a strong position, leading his primary opponent in the polls. His numbers, which are just shy of 30 percent, reflect his high name-ID and years as a party stalwart. When he does jump in, the first question is whether his lead will grow or shrink as competitors begin attacking his record and garner name recognition of their own.
Biden must smack his head every time he thinks about 2016. He would have been a stronger candidate than Hillary — not a very high bar — which means he might well have won the presidency. That’s far less likely this time around, and not only because Donald Trump has the advantages of incumbency and smooth sailing through the primaries. It’s also because Biden is no cinch to win the Democratic nomination.
Within the party, Biden holds three huge advantages, three disadvantages, and one major question mark. Let’s sort them out.
Two of his advantages are obvious: his association with President Barack Obama and his ability to relate to blue-collar voters. Although the party has moved left since Obama’s day, the former president is still the most popular Democrat, by far. That helps Biden since he is the candidate most closely associated with Obama. That’s a big f***ing deal, as Joe would put it. He also benefits from Obama’s legacy as a proven national winner.
A second major asset is Biden’s appeal to blue collar voters, especially in swing states from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin. Those voters loathed Hillary Clinton. They won’t warm to Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and other poster children for the party’s coastal elites. One huge problem for Biden, however, is that those elites in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, Ann Arbor, and Madison — and their like-minded friends — dominate the party primaries and its fundraising. The very reasons Biden appeals to Scranton damn him in San Francisco.
Few have noticed Biden’s third advantage, but it is very real. He is a ‘happy warrior.’ It’s more than his folksy style, though that surely helps. It’s his obvious relish for the campaign trail, something he shares with Trump. Even when Biden is angry, tossing red meat to the party faithful, he clearly enjoys it. It shows, and voters like that. Think about the Democrats’ best candidates, from FDR and JFK to Bill Clinton. They were all happy to be in the ring, fighting for their side. That appeals to all voters, not just the Democratic base, as Ronald Reagan demonstrated.
What voters don’t like is being hectored and lectured to, which is the default style of today’s angry left-wing horde. When Saturday Night Live compares you to a prostate exam, as they did with Elizabeth Warren, you might want to brush up on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’
What about Biden’s drawbacks? Three stand out.
- His age, which is a proxy for old party positions rejected by the party’s young and energetic base;
- His long record, filled with stances that are easily attacked; and
- His penchant for embarrassing gaffes and goofy statements.