The race amongst Democrats for the presidential nominee has begun, with Joe Biden being the current frontrunner. As such, Biden has returned to the political arena. An arena, that magnifies mistakes and enables scrutiny by the competition and pundits alike. While Biden has been in public service for the majority of his life, he has also gained a reputation for blunders. It is a weakness, that should not be the primary concern, as the democratic party is not looking for perfection, but the ability to mobilise former Trump voters as well as a heavily left-leaning democratic base. Joe Biden has the talents to tackle this conundrum.
When Biden entered the democratic race on April 25th, he took the immediate role as the party’s favourite to obtain the nomination. It did not come as a surprise. There is a certain degree of bonus and nostalgia, Biden carries. A bonus, for an almost fifty-year long career in national politics. Nostalgia, for having been Vice President to the most popular Democratic President of modern times – Barack Obama. Biden has seen it all. Thirty-six years in the Senate, representing Delaware, and having earned a reputation as someone, who has shown a proclivity to facilitate legislation in a bipartisan approach. He is an embodiment of a politician and has the experience many others of his competitors are lacking. Most importantly, however, Biden is a moderate candidate. And as such he can appeal to blue-collar voters.
It remains the incumbrance for 2020: Win back blue-collar workers Hillary Clinton did not reach in 2016, particularly in and around the Rust Belt. The race here is wide open. Obama won here in 2012 while Trump won big parts in 2016. Many of these are Swing States, not bound by ideology but by a traditionally opportune and open ear for the right candidate and his message. Biden’s current main competitors Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren are unlikely to make their marks in these states. The message of universal healthcare (read: socialism), open borders and climate change does surprisingly not resonate with a factory worker in Michigan or farmer in Ohio the same way it might with wealthier individuals in metropolitan areas. This hypothesis was last put to the test and verified during last year’s Midterm Elections. Here, the majority of congressional seats in the Rust Belt area, obtained by Democrats, went to candidates with a moderate agenda, not the hard left.
It furthermore verifies the idea that the election of 2016 was not won by Donald Trump. It was lost by Hillary Clinton. Perceived as somewhat out of touch and as part of the elites that had caused the downfall of working-class America, Clinton did not obtain the necessary votes in relevant states. In some cases, such as Wisconsin, she famously did not even campaign. Calling Trump supporters “deplorable” did not help the cause either. However, three years later, the failed Clinton bid has provided Biden with a blueprint for victory. None surprisingly, Biden made his main message clear: Blue-collar America built the country. And it not only deserves respect but the upmost support.
The message has been received and Biden is posing a serious threat to the White House. According to latest polls, Biden is currently leading Trump in Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina and even Texas – traditionally a Republican stronghold. Nationally, Biden is beating Trump by 49% to 39%. However, a certain degree of caution when evaluating polls this early is certainly warranted. After all, Clinton led Trump by 12% – one month later Trump would win the presidency.
And while Democrats have not even made it to the primaries yet, Biden’s momentum has not gone unnoticed – on both sides of the aisle. As a result, his fellow competitors have been attacking Biden on his political track record. Meanwhile, the right is not too amused either. Whole segments dedicated to Biden can be witnessed in all its glory on Fox News shows such as Hannity and Tucker Carlson. It is an almost daily character assassination that ranges from labelling Biden incompetent to calling him “sleepy/creepy Uncle Joe”. And in some way, this may be even more telling than the polls. The notion of Biden the bumbling old man, as opposed to the strong leader, may not be completely unwarranted. Over the years, Biden made his fair share of blunders and Freudian slips. Needless to say: there will be more to come. But unlike in previous years, one feels that lack of rhetorical genius may not be the deciding factor in a campaign against Donald Trump. After all, what has emanated out of the Oval Office since 2016 cannot be labelled as Shakespearian either.
To maintain the aforementioned momentum, Biden must avoid one pitfall in particular: The anti- Donald Trump campaign. While many people may happily vote for any presidential candidate not named Donald Trump, Biden has to be cautious with the narrative so many in the Democratic party have been telling – including himself. In this narrative, America had been almost perfect prior to Trump. No division, no hate, endless prosperity. It is a false narrative. A political fairy tale and a prime example of intellectual dishonesty. For Biden to be successful, he needs to find the holy grail of running on his message, not succumb to the false democratic narrative. If Biden was to secure the nomination, finding an adequate running mate would be the first crucial decision. A Biden-Harris ticket seems to be the most viable and promising option and would provide his presidential campaign with a significant range for voters e.g. moderate to left, minorities and women.
In the meantime, one must not get lost in reoccurring blunders Biden has displayed. Voters are not looking for a rhetorical genius, nor someone perfect, but a leader. A leader, who can heal big parts of the republic and introduce unity to all those who have experienced increased division under President Trump. Someone who not only addresses but solves the issues blue-collar America has been facing. The coming months will tell whether Biden is the man for the job. As of now, he remains the only one.